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

Amanda M. Acevedo, Kate A. Leger, Brooke N. Jenkins, Sarah D. Pressman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-418
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Positive Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project and senior author?s time were supported by an AXA Research Fund Award. We would like to thank the many undergraduate students who were instrumental in collecting this data, especially Jacquelyn Shader, as well as Dr. Marie P. Cross and Dr. John Hunter for their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Emotion
  • cold pressor
  • experimental pain
  • heart rate variability
  • positive affect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


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