Ten years of research with the Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Test: Data from the past and guidelines for the future

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018 Jun:92:155-161. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.03.010. Epub 2018 Mar 19.


Ten years ago, the Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Test (SECPT) was introduced as a standardized protocol for the efficient experimental stress induction in humans. In short, the 3 min SECPT, which can be conducted by only a single experimenter, combines a physiological challenge (hand immersion into ice water) with socio-evaluative elements. The purpose of this article is twofold. First, we aim to evaluate the subjective and physiological responses elicited by the SECPT. To this end, we pooled data from 21 studies from our lab and systematically analyzed the response profile to the SECPT. Our analyses show that the SECPT leads, both in men and women, to striking increases in subjective stress levels, autonomic arousal, and cortisol, albeit the cortisol response is typically somewhat less pronounced than in the Trier Social Stress Test. Second, we aim to provide guidelines for conducting the SECPT, in order to foster homogenization of the SECPT procedure across (and within) labs. In sum, we argue that the SECPT is a highly efficient tool to induce stress and activate major stress systems in a laboratory context, in particular if the guidelines that we outline here are followed.

Keywords: Autonomic arousal; Cortisol; Laboratory stressor; SECPT; Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Test; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cold Temperature
  • Exercise Test / methods*
  • Exercise Test / standards*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Male
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Hydrocortisone