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Disentangling opposing effects of motivational states on pain perception

Geuter, Stephana,*; Cunningham, Jonathan T.a; Wager, Tor D.a,b

doi: 10.1097/PR9.0000000000000574

Introduction: Although the motivation to avoid injury and pain is central to human and animal behavior, this goal compete priority with other homeostatic goals. Animal studies have shown that competing motivational states, such as thirst, reduce pain. However, such states may also induce negative mood, which in humans has been found to increase pain. These opposing effects complicate study of the effects of motivational states in humans.

Objectives: To evaluate concurrent effects of motivational state competition and mood on pain ratings.

Methods: We compared a thirst challenge against a control group and measured thirst and mood as potential mediators. Pain induced through contact heat stimulation on the left forearm and was tested at 3 time points: before group randomization, after thirst induction, and after rehydration.

Results: Overall, the thirst group reported more pain when thirsty compared with baseline and controls. Mediation analyses showed evidence for two opposing effects. First, the thirst challenge increased negative mood and thirstiness, which was related to increased pain. Second, the thirst challenge produced a direct, pain-reducing effect.

Conclusion: Competing motivational states reduce pain but also induce concurrent mood changes that can mask motivational state-related effects.

Competition for prioritization between basic motivational states, such as pain and thirst, is thought to inhibit the currently nonprioritized state. We show that thirst can reduce pain in humans, whereas at the same time enhance pain through increased negative mood.

aInstitute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA

bDepartment of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA

Corresponding author. Address: Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, 80309. Tel.: +1 (303) 492-4299. E-mail address: (S. Geuter).

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-SA), which allows others to remix, tweak, and build upon the work non-commercially, as long as the author is credited and the new creations are licensed under the identical terms.

Received June 13, 2016

Received in revised form August 27, 2016

Accepted September 07, 2016

© 2016 The Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of The International Association for the Study of Pain.