Spatial summation in human thermal pain perception: comparison within and between dermatomes

D. K. Douglass, Earl Carstens, L. R. Watkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Spatial summation of thermal pain has recently been reported when stimulus presentations were restricted within a single dermatome. The present study examined whether the magnitude of spatial summation of human thermal pain perception would vary when stimuli were presented within vs. between adjacent dermatomes. Noxious contact heat stimuli from 43°C to 51°C (5 sec duration) were applied to the forearm using areas of 0.21-2.10 cm2. Subjects rated the intensity and unpleasantness of pain using visual analog scales. For stimuli from 45°C to 51°C, there was a significant increase in ratings with increasing stimulus area for both intensity and unpleasantness. When two thermodes were used simultaneously in adjacent dermatomes, the ratings did not differ significantly from those for the same stimulus area in a single dermatome. We conclude that spatial summation both within and between dermatomes plays a significant role in thermal pain perception across the range from threshold to tolerance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-202
Number of pages6
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1992


  • (Human)
  • Pain
  • Psychophysics
  • Spatial summation
  • Visual analog scales

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neurology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Psychology


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