Emotions like anger and sadness may cause pain as well as being a result of it

Emotional state can affect inflammatory responses to pain.


A study by the Penn State suggests that emotions such as anger or sadness are often lead to stress or pain. Means, negative or mixed emotions could function as stressors themselves.

The study determines the relationship between emotion and pain among women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Jennifer Graham-Engeland, associate professor of biobehavioral health and lead author of the manuscript said, “We often think of emotion as a consequence of stress or pain, but our findings suggest that under certain circumstances negative emotion or complex, mixed emotion can function as a stressor itself, and one which can promote inflammation.”

According to scientists, inflammation – a physiological phenomenon for which biomarkers from blood can be obtained – may be connected to emotion and pain. They developed a novel methodology and used it to test how emotional state, such as anger, sadness or happiness, affected inflammatory response to a pain stimulus.

Graham-Engeland said, “The more we understand the connection between emotion and pain the more we can develop newer options for treatment as well as bolster the argument that psychological treatments are needed for pain”

Study members each sought a five-hour visit on four separate events to the Clinical Research Center at Penn State. These visits fluctuated just by the control of feeling (anger, sadness or happiness versus a non-emotional control visit). To control feeling, scientists had members think, compose and discuss their ongoing sentiments identified with one of these specific feelings.

After the emotional manipulation, the acute pain was caused by pressing on tender or swollen joints of participants, such as what might be done during a routine clinical examination. Blood samples were then obtained at multiple time points, including at baseline, ten minutes, one hour, and 100 minutes after the pain stimulus.

Scientists did not found any main effect of experimental condition; however, when participants reported greater anger than their own average, they showed elevated inflammation. They also found that when negative emotion was experienced in the context of a manipulation for a different emotion, they showed elevated levels of both inflammation and the stress hormone cortisol.

Graham-Engeland said, “These findings are in concordance with a few recent studies suggesting that emotional states can cause or contribute to specific patterns of physiological responses to stress or pain.”

“Such work is important because a more nuanced understanding of the role of emotion, psychological stress and pain on inflammatory states may eventually help clarify novel clinical tools to treat inflammation and pain or help improve current pain management techniques.”

The manuscript is published in the journal Psychological Reports.

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