Body site variation of cool perception thresholds, with observations on paradoxical heat

Joel D. Greenspan, Dorothy J. Taylor, Sandra L.B. Mcgillis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thresholds for the perception of coolness and heat pain were determined in sessions that randomly intermixed temperature increases and decreases. Four body sites were tested bilaterally: thenar eminence of the hand, plantar surface of the foot, dorsolateral forearm, and lateral calf. Coolness thresholds were lowest for the hand, intermediate for the forearm, and highest for the leg and foot. Laterality differences were not statistically significant. In 34% of the sessions, subjects did not consistently report cool or cold sensations with detectable temperatue decreases. When they did not report cool or cold, they most often reported heat or pain, thus exhibiting the phenomenon of "paradoxical heat" There were significantly more paradoxical heat responses when cooling stimuli were intermixed with painfully hot stimuli than when they were intermixed with only warm stimuli. There was no significant correlation observed between thresholds for coolness and heat pain, either across body sites or across subjects at any single body site. This result implies that the various factors relevant to thermal sensitivity (i.e., thermal properties of the epidermis, innervation density) are differentially important for cool versus heat pain perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-474
Number of pages8
JournalSomatosensory & Motor Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Cutaneous sensation
  • Extremities
  • Pain
  • Sensory threshold
  • Temperature sense

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems


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