Pain behaviors that are excessive for the degree of known physical disease are common in patients with chronic low back pain and are frequently assumed to arise from a comorbid depressive illness. Although some studies have confirmed an association between depression and excessive pain behavior, methodologic problems (such as the use of depression ratings that also recorded symptoms attributable to physical disease) make interpretation of this finding difficult. We recruited 54 consecutive patients with chronic (>6 months) low back pain from a hospital clinic. Subjects completed self-rated assessments of anxiety and depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) designed to be minimally affected by physical symptoms, along with assessments of disability (ODQ), pain (visual analogue scale), pain behavior (Waddell checklist), and physical impairment. Seventeen subjects (31 %) exhibited excessive pain behavior. Overall, they were no more depressed or anxious than the remainder, although men with excessive pain behavior showed a trend toward being more depressed. Patients with excessive pain behavior were more disabled (self-rated and observer-rated), reported greater pain, and were more likely to be female and to have pain of shorter duration. Pain behavior did not correlate with anxiety or depression, but correlated with measures of disability and pain intensity. Factor analysis revealed that physical disability, pain intensity, and pain behavior loaded heavily on the first factor. Anxiety and depression loaded together on a separate factor. We conclude that pain behaviors were not related to anxiety or depression in our group, although gender differences between groups could have contributed to our negative findings. Pain behaviors may influence other physical measures. Further studies are required to investigate the relation between depression and pain behavior while controlling for gender differences.