A Diary Study of Basic Psychological Needs and Daily Headache Experience


  • Conflict of Interest: Dr. Smitherman serves as consultant for Alder Biopharmaceuticals. The other authors report no conflicts of interest.



A diary study was conducted to investigate the relationships between headache activity and basic psychological needs satisfaction.


One hundred sixteen young adults (M age = 19.17 (SD = 2.90); 81.7% female; 75.9% Caucasian) completed an online daily diary of headache activity and needs satisfaction for 3 weeks. Data were analyzed using hierarchical linear modeling.


On days when headache occurred, participants reported decreased needs satisfaction of competence (γ10 = −0.18, P = .014) and relatedness (γ10 = −0.24, P = .003), and a marginal but not significant reduction in autonomy (γ10 = −0.13, P = .067). Additionally, more severe headaches were associated with decreased needs satisfaction in autonomy (γ10 = −0.08, P = .009), competence (γ10 = −0.08, P = .011), and relatedness (γ10 = −0.09, P = .005). Presence of a headache diagnosis did not moderate the relationship between headache occurrence and basic needs satisfaction (all Ps ≥ .24).


This preliminary study is the first to show that headache is related to reduced basic psychological needs satisfaction, providing a potential account for one mechanism by which headache may negatively affect quality of life. Further research is needed to extend these findings to larger samples of migraine sufferers to enable more thorough between-group comparisons of headache-related burden on basic needs satisfaction. These findings may be informative for treatment approaches that focus on outcomes beyond mere symptom reduction.