Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Mitchell E. Berman

Committee Member

Michael R. Nadorff

Committee Member

Kevin J. Armstrong

Committee Member

Michael S. McCloskey

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms

Visible to MSU only for 2 years

Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only


Applied Psychology (Clinical)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Psychology


Pain is a sensory experience associated with physical discomfort that is influenced by cognition and emotion and has been linked to an increased risk for aggression. The purpose of the current study was to examine the association between pain and aggression under controlled laboratory conditions using both experimental and non-experimental approaches. The aims of the study were two-fold. First, to manipulate perceived pain tolerance via faux feedback and then observe whether aggression differs as a function of this pain perception manipulation using a laboratory analogue of aggression. Second, to examine whether self-ratings of pain sensitivity and behavioral measures of pain are associated with self-reported or behavioral assessment of aggression. Eighty-three men and women were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: A high pain tolerance feedback group, a low pain tolerance feedback group, and a no pain tolerance feedback (control) group. Participants completed self-report ratings of pain and aggression, including the Life History of Aggression: Aggression subscale, the Buss Perry Aggression Questionnaire: Physical Aggression subscale, and the Pain Sensitivity Questionnaire. Participants then completed an algometer pressure pain task and immediately received high or low pain tolerance feedback (or no feedback) before engaging in an electric shock pain tolerance procedure and subsequently participating in a laboratory task of aggression against an increasingly provocative fictitious "opponent" during a competitive reaction-time task (i.e., the Taylor Aggression Paradigm; TAP). Aggression was operationalized both as the average shock and the number of "extreme" shocks administered to the opponent. The latter were ostensibly twice the opponent's pain threshold. Results indicated that, contrary to the main prediction, individuals who received high pain tolerance feedback tended to select lower mean shocks as provocation increased. Pain sensitivity was also positively related to TAP aggression. These results are consistent with the literature suggesting that low perceived pain tolerance is associated with aggression. However, pressure pain tolerance was positively associated with self-reported aggression, suggesting that the association between pain and aggression is complex, may involve multiple pathways, and is dependent on the method used to assess pain and aggression.


Mississippi State University Department of Psychology, Mississippi State University College of Arts and Sciences