Impact of Threat Level, Task Instruction, and Individual Characteristics on Cold Pressor Pain and Fear among Children and Their Parents

Pain Pract. 2016 Jul;16(6):657-68. doi: 10.1111/papr.12306. Epub 2015 May 26.


The cold pressor task (CPT) is increasingly used to induce experimental pain in children, but the specific methodology of the CPT is quite variable across pediatric studies. This study examined how subtle variations in CPT methodology (eg. provision of low- or high-threat information regarding the task; provision or omission of maximum immersion time) may influence children's and parents' perceptions of the pain experience. Forty-eight children (8 to 14 years) and their parents were randomly assigned to receive information about the CPT that varied on 2 dimensions, prior to completing the task: (i) threat level: high-threat (task described as very painful, high pain expressions depicted) or low-threat (standard CPT instructions provided, low pain expressions depicted); (ii) ceiling: informed (provided maximum immersion time) or uninformed (information about maximum immersion time omitted). Parents and children in the high-threat condition expected greater child pain, and these children reported higher perceived threat of pain and state pain catastrophizing. For children in the low-threat condition, an informed ceiling was associated with less state pain catastrophizing during the CPT. Pain intensity, tolerance, and fear during the CPT did not differ by experimental group, but were predicted by child characteristics. Findings suggest that provision of threatening information may impact anticipatory outcomes, but experienced pain was better explained by individual child variables.

Keywords: children; cold pressor task; experimental methods; fear; parents; pediatric pain; threat.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological
  • Catastrophization / psychology
  • Child
  • Cold Temperature
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immersion / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pressure
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires