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Pain. 2008 Jun;136(3):250-61. Epub 2007 Aug 20.

Emotional control of nociceptive reactions (ECON): do affective valence and arousal play a role?

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  • 1Department of Psychology, The University of Tulsa, 600 South College Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74104, USA.


Prior research suggests emotional picture-viewing modulates motoric (nociceptive flexion reflex), autonomic (skin conductance response, heart rate acceleration), and subjective (pain rating) reactions to noxious electrodermal stimulation. The present study sought to determine whether emotional valence and arousal contribute to nociception modulation. To do so, pictures varying in emotional content (erotica, food, neutral, loss, attack) were chosen to manipulate emotional valence (pleasant=erotic and food; unpleasant=loss and attack) and arousal (low=food and loss; moderate=erotica and attack). Pictures were presented in pseudorandom order to elicit emotional processing while noxious electric stimulations were delivered to the sural nerve. Nociceptive flexion reflex (NFR) magnitude, skin conductance response (SCR), heart rate (HR) acceleration, and subjective pain ratings to each stimulation were measured, standardized, averaged by picture content, and analyzed. Results suggested that picture-viewing explained 52% of the variance in the multivariate combination of the nociceptive reactions and modulated them in parallel. Pleasant pictures inhibited reactions, whereas unpleasant pictures enhanced them. However, only erotica and attack pictures elicited significant modulation relative to neutral pictures, suggesting arousal also contributed. An exploratory multilevel analysis also supported this conclusion. Together, these data suggest emotional control of nociceptive reactions (ECON) is associated with a valence-by-arousal interaction. Implications of these findings for how emotional picture-viewing can be used to study supraspinal modulation are discussed.

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