Date of Award:

1994

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Sebastian Striefel

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of the cold pressor test on skin temperature, natural killer cell activity, plasma concentrations of interleukin-1 and cortisol, and the numbers of white blood cells, CD3+ cells, CD4+ cells, CD8+ cells, and CD56+ cells in the peripheral blood. In addition, the study examined whether thermal biofeedback, when presented following the cold pressor tests, would mitigate the effects of the cold pressor tests.

Four male university students completed pretest psychological inventories and were pretrained during nine laboratory sessions to increase their skin temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. During the experiment, blood samples were collected at 5-minute intervals and before and after the 1-minute cold pressor tests through an 18-mm catheter inserted into each subject's arm. Subjects were randomly assigned to a matched pair and to the order of experimental conditions, including baseline, the initial cold pressor test, return to baseline, the second cold pressor test, and thermal biofeedback. Each matched pair experienced the conditions in a multiple baseline fashion across subjects during the individual 1.5-hour experimental sessions. Following the experiment, subjects completed posttest psychological inventories, exit interviews, and consumer satisfaction surveys.

All subjects demonstrated a decrease in skin temperature ranging from 1 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit during the 1-minute cold pressor tests in a multiple baseline fashion, and repeated the temperature decreases within-subjects during the second cold pressor test. Increases in natural killer cell activity ranged from 1% to 14% during the cold pressor tests. For all subjects, both cold pressor tests were associated with increased plasma concentrations of interleukin-1, ranging from 2 to 69 pg/ml. The initial cold pressor tests were associated with increases in all cell numbers in a multiple baseline fashion, but cell numbers varied during the second cold pressor tests. For all subjects, average skin temperatures during the thermal biofeedback conditions were from .3 to .9 degrees higher than during the return to baseline conditions. For all subjects, thermal biofeedback conditions were associated with from 2 to 8 (10^4 cells/ml) higher mean numbers of CD56+ cells than the return to baseline conditions. For 3 subjects, the thermal biofeedback conditions were associated with higher numbers of white blood cells, CD3+ cells, CD4+ cells, and CD8+ cells than the return to baseline conditions. Thermal biofeedback was associated with reductions of from .2 to 26 in the standard deviations of interleukin-1 values, and with a reduced range of cortisol values following the cold pressor tests.

Few changes occurred in scores from pre- to posttest on the psychological tests. Subjects rated the goal of learning to relax as very important. All of the subjects stated that they would seek relaxation training for the treatment of a medical or psychological disorder if prescribed. Implications are discussed for design of research in psychoneuroimmunology, for measurement of immune system variables, and for potential clinical applications of these data.

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