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Psychological intervention may be effective in chronic pain. A brief, valid and reliable screening tool may assist the targeting of appropriate intervention in primary care. We tested the Psychological Vulnerability Scale (PVS) for use in future community-based studies. A postal questionnaire was sent to 160 adults sampled from a general practice in North East Scotland, and to 40 adults from a hospital-based pain management clinic. The questionnaire included the SF-36, the Chronic Pain Grade (CPG) and chronic pain definition questionnaire.Factor analysis identified one relevant factor with a high eigenvalue of 3.65. All correlations with the SF-36 were significant. The PVS had good internal consistency and moderate test–retest scores, showing the PVS to be a reliable instrument for use in a general population sample. The difference in PVS total score between the pain clinic and general population sample was highly significant (p = 0.006). 32% of community-based individuals with chronic pain and 49% of pain clinic attendees had high psychological vulnerability. Further work is required to assess the usefulness of the PVS in future chronic pain research and clinical practice.