Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Coping with Cold-Pressor Pain: Effects of Mood and Covert Imaginal Modeling

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

Coping with Cold-Pressor Pain: Effects of Mood and Covert Imaginal Modeling

Article excerpt

The primary or secondary use of mental imagery interventions has been found to help in the relief of painful ailments. For example, mental imagery interventions have been shown to promote muscle relaxation and decrease pain sensitivity in chronic pain sufferers (Albright & Fischer, 1990; Newshart & Balamuth, 1991), alleviate acute and chronic pain in hospital outpatients (Raft, Smith, & Warren, 1986), reduce acute finger pressure pain (Spanos & O'Hara, 1990), and increase pain thresholds (Hatayama, Shimizu, & Ohyama, 1989).

Further, a meta-analytic study on pain coping strategies (Fernandez & Turk, 1989) found that imagery-assisted interventions may be the most effective cognitive methods for attenuating pain. In addition, imaginal pain coping strategies have been found more effective than other multiple cognitive strategies (Berntzen, 1987). Use of mental imagery interventions has been found superior to expectancy induction in raising pain tolerance (Stevens, Pfost, & Rapp, 1987). Participants who are successful at increasing tolerance times have been shown to use more imagery coping strategies than cognitive self-statements, distracting thoughts, paced breathing, or relaxation techniques (Zelman, Howland, Nichols, & Cleeland, 1991).

Covert modeling is one type of imaginal coping strategy. Clinicians and researchers have used imaginal modeling techniques to teach individuals to cope with stressful situations. In such procedures, instructing participants in the use of images that contain someone effectively coping may increase participants' self-efficacy and decrease their anxiety. Covert imaginal models have been shown to help relieve client distress associated with painful situations (Cautela, 1977, 1986; Cautela & Flannery, 1974) and aid in overcoming avoidance behaviors associated with feared objects (Cautela, 1977; Kazdin, 1974).

Use of pleasant imageries may affect pain experiences. Visualizing pleasant scenes has been successfully used for increasing target behavior performance (Cautela, 1977). The use of pleasant imagery has been helpful for relief of test, and sexually related, anxieties (Cautela, 1970). The pleasant or unpleasantness of imageries may also create changes in participant mood states. Mood inductions may affect pain experiences by influencing emotional processing systems (Hodes, Howland, Lightfoot, & Cleeland, 1990). Mood states may affect strategies used for the modification of pain (Eich, Rachman, & Lapotka, 1990; Stevens, Heise, & Pfost, 1989). Although a few studies have shown the beneficial effects of covert imagery, "the available experimental evidence warrants further investigation" into these phenomena (Cautela, 1986). Given the theoretical and empirical indications on the effects of imagery, mood, and covert imaginal modeling interventions, this study asked: (a) Can pleasant and unpleasant imageries affect mood states? (b) can mood affect ability to successfully use covert model imagery and increase pain tolerance? (c) can pleasant moods enhance pain coping effectiveness of a covert modeling strategy?



Thirty volunteer participants were recruited from introductory psychology classes at a mid-sized midwestern undergraduate university to participate in an experiment involving hand immersions in ice-cold water. Male and female participants were white undergraduates, who were offered extra course credit for their participation in the study. One undergraduate male experimenter participated in this study.


Ten participants were randomly assigned to each of two imagery treatments (i.e., mood inductions) and one no treatment control group (N = 30). The groups were as follows: (a) pleasant imagery plus imaginal model (PI-CM), (b) unpleasant imagery plus imaginal model (UI-CM), or (c) no treatment control (NTC).

Pleasant imagery plus imaginal model participants imagined pleasant scenes followed by competent imaginal model imagery. …

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