Biological sex and social setting affects pain intensity and observational coding of other people's pain behaviors.
ABSTRACT This experiment examines the impact of biological sex and audience composition on laboratory-induced ischemic pain intensity and observational coding of other people's pain behaviors. Situational context was manipulated by varying the sex and number of audience stimuli in the laboratory setting during the pain task and during observational evaluations of other people's pain suffering. The analyses revealed sex differences in felt pain intensity and observable pain behaviors, with male subjects reporting lower pain intensity and evidencing fewer pain behaviors than female subjects on average. Follow-up analyses revealed that, after controlling for social anxiety, audience composition was linked to felt pain intensity, and this relation was moderated by participant sex and audience sex, such that only male subjects showed decreased pain intensity with increasing number of female audience members. Sex differences were also found in the rating of other people's pain behaviors, with male observers rating the pain of others lower than female observers. Composition of the audience influenced observers' pain ratings such that the presence of more male subjects in the audience correlated with lower observer ratings, whereas the presence of more female subjects correlated with higher observer ratings. This is the first study to show that the sex and the composition of the social context in which pain is experienced affects the intensity of felt pain and the evaluation of other people's pain suffering. Implications of the findings for measuring and interpreting pain suffering in male and female patients by male and female treatment providers in health care settings are discussed.
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ABSTRACT: This is the first study to examine how both structural and functional components of individuals' social networks may moderate the association between biological sex and experimental pain sensitivity. One hundred and fifty-two healthy adults (mean age = 22yrs., 53% males) were measured for cold pressor task (CPT) pain sensitivity (i.e., intensity ratings) and core aspects of social networks (e.g., proportion of friends vs. family, affection, affirmation, and aid). Results showed consistent sex differences in how social network structures and intimate relationship functioning modulated pain sensitivity. Females showed higher pain sensitivity when their social networks consisted of a higher proportion of intimate types of relationship partners (e.g., kin vs. non kin), when they had known their network partners for a longer period of time, and when they reported higher levels of logistical support from their significant other (e.g., romantic partner). Conversely, males showed distinct patterns in the opposite direction, including an association between higher levels of logistical support from one's significant other and lower CPT pain intensity. These findings show for the first time that the direction of sex differences in exogenous pain sensitivity is likely dependent on fundamental components of the individual's social environment. The utility of a social-signaling perspective of pain behaviors for examining, comparing, and interpreting individual and group differences in experimental and clinical pain reports is discussed.PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(11):e78663. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Decoding pain in others is of high individual and social benefit in terms of harm avoidance and demands for accurate care and protection. The processing of facial expressions includes both specific neural activation and automatic congruent facial muscle reactions. While a considerable number of studies investigated the processing of emotional faces, few studies specifically focused on facial expressions of pain. Analyses of brain activity and facial responses elicited by the perception of facial pain expressions in contrast to other emotional expressions may unravel the processing specificities of pain-related information in healthy individuals and may contribute to explaining attentional biases in chronic pain patients. In the present study, 23 participants viewed short video clips of neutral, emotional (joy, fear), and painful facial expressions while affective ratings, event-related brain responses, and facial electromyography (Musculus corrugator supercilii, M. orbicularis oculi, M. zygomaticus major, M. levator labii) were recorded. An emotion recognition task indicated that participants accurately decoded all presented facial expressions. Electromyography analysis suggests a distinct pattern of facial response detected in response to happy faces only. However, emotion-modulated late positive potentials revealed a differential processing of pain expressions compared to the other facial expressions, including fear. Moreover, pain faces were rated as most negative and highly arousing. Results suggest a general processing bias in favor of pain expressions. Findings are discussed in light of attentional demands of pain-related information and communicative aspects of pain expressions.Pain 07/2012; 153(9):1959-64. · 5.64 Impact Factor