Fear and anxiety: divergent effects on human pain thresholds. Academic Article uri icon


  • Animal studies suggest that fear inhibits pain whereas anxiety enhances it; however it is unclear whether these effects generalize to humans. The present study examined the effects of experimentally induced fear and anxiety on radiant heat pain thresholds. Sixty male and female human subjects were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 emotion induction conditions: (1) fear, induced by exposure to three brief shocks; (2) anxiety, elicited by the threat of shock; (3) neutral, with no intervention. Pain thresholds were tested before and after emotion induction. Results suggest that findings from animal studies extend to humans: fear resulted in decreased pain reactivity, while anxiety led to increased reactivity. Pain rating data indicated that participants used consistent subjective criteria to indicate pain thresholds. Both subjective and physiological indicators (skin conductance level, heart rate) confirmed that the treatment conditions produced the targeted emotional states. These results support the view that emotional states modulate human pain reactivity.

published proceedings

  • Pain

altmetric score

  • 24.17

author list (cited authors)

  • Rhudy, J. L., & Meagher, M. W.

citation count

  • 653

complete list of authors

  • Rhudy, Jamie L||Meagher, Mary W

publication date

  • January 2000

published in