Under Pressor

Did anyone see the Mythbusters episode two weeks or so ago? It was the one where they were investigating whether men or women had a higher pain tolerance. They needed a method to inflict pain on the subjects that would allow the subject control over the amount of pain they received. The form of pain also had to be something non-dangerous and something that didn’t leave scars, bruises, other disfigurements or prolonged injury. The capsaicin injections that Adam endured looked horrifying, but ultimately they settled on having the subjects immerse their hand into a big bowl of water loaded with ice, with the subjects allowed to remove their hand at any point. Each subject was timed as to how long they could keep their hand submerged. Oh, and fingers needed to be fanned out and not clenched into a fist to conserve heat. It turns out that this is a common task used in research. It’s called theĀ Cold Pressor Test.

The results were that out of 25 men and 25 women, women lasted an average of 100.4 seconds and men lasted an average of 84.3 seconds.

I think they did a fairly good job with the testing, even though the sample size was small and 100.4 seconds versus 84.3 seconds isn’t a significant difference.

While Jon and I were watching the show, I started to wonder about other factors- namely, I think that if you knew you were going to be on Mythbusters you would probably be excited. Also, you are probably likely to want to please Adam and Jamie and will comply with the ice request, holding out for way longer than if some nobody asked you to perform the same task. Or what if one group was offered a certain amount of money per ten seconds versus a group with no reward?

Variations aside, the activity looked like fun and I wondered if I could hold out as long as Jamie, who kept his hand submerged for the maximum three minutes. In hindsight, it seems silly to think I could measure up to a robot, but sometimes I get carried away.

We had to use all of our ice cube trays and we didn’t have enough ice for both of us to do it on the same day, so we flipped a coin and on Saturday Jon got to go first. That day I wasn’t allowed to put my hand in to see how cold it was because that would risk putting me at an advantage by knowing what to expect. We also waited five minutes after preparing the ice/ice pack/water bowl to allow the water to cool as much as possible.

And here goes Jon:


Water 1

It seems that it takes just around 5 seconds for your brain to comprehend just how cold that is, but the pain hasn’t really kicked in yet.

10 SECONDSWater 2


At this point it ceases to be shocking and just plain hurts.


Water 3

20 seconds is about how long it takes before the pain is barely tolerable.

We didn’t have a fancy sensor like Mythbusters to determine precisely when we withdrew our hand, so we each agreed to just yell out “stop!” when the timekeeper should record the final time.

Jon’s pain tolerance was a wimpy 45 seconds.

We gathered up all the ice cube trays and filled them up for my turn the following day.

So here I go-

Water 4

Jon had the good idea of taking a “before” picture to see how composed I was prior to the submersion. I look funny in that picture because by that point I was bored of waiting the five minutes for the water to cool and because I was distracted by the tv- there was a show on about softshell turtles.


Water 5

A little surprised by just how cold it was, but it wasn’t enough to draw my attention away from the softshell turtle show.



Water 6

Oh crap. How much time has gone by? There’s no way in hell I’m going to beat Jon, let alone match Jamie.


Water 7


At this point I’m no longer capable of thinking in words.

My score? A miserable 32 seconds.

Compared to those volunteers on Mythbusters, we’re the world’s most gigantic wussies. Even Grant beat me!

I still want to do a best two out of three with Jon because I really think I could do better if I had another try. I think Jon probably feels the same way. If we were pitting ourselves against one another, the difference in our scores is definitely not significant and we would each have to do it at least three times to determine who is better at ice immersion than the other.

Funny thing, though. When we go swimming in the ocean or at the pond, I’m invariably the one who goes first and doesn’t have as much of a problem swimming in the cold water.

I also think it’s interesting that our facial expressions, besides being pretty funny, roughly match one another as time progresses. There was some anthropologist or primatologist, I can’t remember who, who tried to determine if humans all make the same faces when feeling any particular emotion, and that these expressions also roughly match those of monkeys and other apes.