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Keep calm or get excited? Examining the effects of different types of positive affect on responses to acute pain


Researchers typically assume that all forms of positive affect (PA) are equally beneficial for attenuating the physiological stress response. We tested whether this association is more nuanced by examining the role of arousal level of PA on physiological responses to acute pain. Participants (N = 283, 75.6% female, Mage = 20.6) were randomized to a low, mid, or high arousal (calm, happy, and excited, respectively) induction condition or to a neutral control and then completed an acute pain-inducing cold pressor task. Sympathetic and parasympathetic responses along with self-reported pain and distress were assessed. Results indicated that the calm condition had a flatter sympathetic reactivity and subsequent recovery compared with the control condition. Additionally, calm and excited were associated with steeper increases in parasympathetic reactivity versus controls. These results support past PA stress buffering findings and indicate that not all types of PA are equal when it comes to improving the pain stress response. Abbreviations: PA: positive affect; PEP: pre-ejection period; RMSSD: root mean square of successive differences.

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