The influence of depressed mood on behavioral, cognitive, and affective responses to cold pressor pain

Scott G. Willoughby


The present study investigated the relationship between depression and pain by examining the influence of induced depressed mood on multiple responses to cold pressor pain. Participants consisted of 75 college students (21 men and 54 women) enrolled in undergraduate psychology courses. The study excluded from participation individuals reporting medical conditions affecting the hands or arms, history of frostbite, current use of antidepressant medication, significant depressive symptoms, and use of analgesic medications during the 24 hours prior to participation in the experiment. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either depressed, neutral, or elated mood induction using the Velten Mood Induction Procedure. This resulted in three mood conditions with 25 participants in each condition. Mood induction was followed by participation in the cold pressor task, during which pain threshold, tolerance time, and unpleasantness ratings were obtained. Modified versions of the McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ) and the Pain Catastrophizing Scale (PCS) were administered immediately following the cold pressor task. Results indicated that the depressed mood group had significantly lower cold pressor tolerance times and higher PCS scores than the neutral group. No other differences were found among the groups on any of the dependent measures, including tolerance time, pain threshold, unpleasantness ratings obtained after 15 seconds of the cold pressor task, MPQ scores, and PCS scores. These results support previous findings that depressed mood state is associated with alterations in only certain pain responses. More specifically, the results suggest that while depressed mood may not be associated with increased pain sensitivity or intensity, it may affect behavioral response (decreased tolerance) and cognitive response (increased catastrophizing) to pain. This study failed to support previous findings which suggested that elated mood state is associated with significant differences in pain response. Clinical implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.