This study was conducted to examine the pain-ameliorating and pain-sensitizing effects of exposure to emotionally engaging drama. Specifically, the consequences for pain sensitivity of exposure to dramatic expositions differing in both excitatory and hedonic qualities were determined. Hedonically negative, neutral, and positive affective states were induced in male respondents by exposure to excerpts from cinematic drama. Pain sensitivity was assessed by the cuff-pressure procedure before and after exposure and by the cold pressor test after exposure only. When compared against the control condition, pain sensitivity diminished under conditions of hedonically positive affect. An inverse effect was suggested for hedonically negative conditions, but proved tentative and statistically unreliable. The findings are consistent with earlier demonstrations of mood effects on pain sensitivity. Unlike inconclusive earlier findings concerning the magnitude of directional effects, however, they suggest an asymmetry that emphasizes the pain-ameliorating effect of positive affects while lending little, if any, support to the proposal of a pain-sensitizing effect of negative affects. The investigation did not accomplish the intended creation of conditions necessary to test the proposal that heightened sympathetic activity diminishes pain sensitivity. The utility of a rigorous determination of this hypothesized relationship is emphasized, and procedures for a viable test of the proposal are suggested.
From the College of Communication, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL.
Address reprint requests to: Dolf Zillmann, University of Alabama, College of Communication and Department of Psychology, 478 Reese Phifer Hall, Box 870172, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0172.
Received for publication January 17, 1995; revision received August 22, 1995.