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J Pain. 2004 Oct;5(8):458-68.

Fear-induced hypoalgesia in humans: effects on low intensity thermal stimulation and finger temperature.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74104, USA. jamie-rhudy@utulsa.edu


Prior research indicates that exposure to fear-inducing stimuli inhibits finger withdrawal to sudden onset and high intensity radiant heat in humans. Although withdrawal latencies to intense heat are thought to reflect changes in spinal nociceptive processing, supraspinal measures are needed to determine whether pain perception is altered. The present study used gradual onset and low intensity radiant heat to induce a finger withdrawal response that depends on supraspinal processes. After baseline pain threshold tests, 57 healthy human participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups. In the fear group, participants received 3 brief shocks. In the neutral group, participants did not receive shock. Results suggest that finger withdrawal latencies to low intensity heat were increased after shock presentation, providing additional evidence that fear reduces pain on a measure that is influenced by supraspinal processes. Both self-report and physiological (skin conductance level, heart rate, and blood pressure) measures of emotion confirmed that the intended affective states were induced. Finger temperature was unaffected by emotion manipulations; thus, skin cooling does not appear to mediate increased withdrawal latencies. These findings provide additional evidence that fear not only inhibits spinal nociceptive reflexes, it also inhibits supraspinal measures of pain.


From a clinical perspective, these data suggest that patients who experience intense fear in response to unpredictable threatening events will show a reduction in pain perception.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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