Year of Publication

2013

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Document Type

Master's Thesis

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Suzanne C. Segerstrom

Abstract

Chronic pain patients have poorer pain inhibition, self-regulatory ability, executive functioning and autonomic inhibition than those without pain, supporting the view that suppressing pain is mentally taxing. In the current study, an alternate explanation was proposed; namely, that pain inhibition, self-regulation, executive functions, and heart rate variability (HRV) are all controlled by the same general inhibitory system. To test this hypothesis, participants came into the laboratory for three sessions. At the first session, individual differences in pain thresholds, self-regulatory strength, executive functioning, and HRV were measured. At the second and third sessions, self-regulatory persistence and within-session changes in pain thresholds were measured under conditions of high and low self-regulatory fatigue. Results revealed that those low in inhibitory strength, operationalized as the aggregate of pain inhibition, self-regulation, executive functioning, and HRV, became more sensitive to pain under conditions of self-regulatory fatigue, whereas no significant changes in pain threshold were found for those high in inhibitory strength. Additional analyses revealed that high baseline pain threshold marginally protected against the effects of self-regulatory fatigue. The findings provide some support for a general inhibitory system and suggest that physiological inhibition of pain and autonomic activity may be influenced by phasic self-regulatory fatigue.

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