Abstract Psychological state, response to pain and style of interpreting everyday experiences were measured in 32 patients who had suffered a whiplash injury 1–84 months before the study. For comparison, measures were also obtained in 15 general practice attenders. Ratings of depression and anxiety were greater in patients than in controls, and patients reported more cold-induced pain during a cold pressor test. Within the patient sample, anxious subjects gave the highest ratings of cold-induced pain. Those with the longest history of pain gave the highest ratings of whiplash injury pain, and were most depressed. Most of these patients were involved in litigation. The findings demonstrate that, like most patients with chronic pain, whiplash injury sufferers are anxious and depressed. Their psychological distress could be aggravated by litigation. Behavioural assessment and treatment of chronic pain syndromes such as whiplash injury could benefit from early evaluation of the patient's psychological state, and response to standard painful stimuli.