The Role of Gender in the Interaction Between Self-Pain and the Perception of Pain in Others

  • Michel-Pierre Coll
    École de psychologie, Faculté des Sciences Sociales, Université Laval, Québec, QC, Canada

    Centre Interdisciplinaire de Recherche en Réadaptation et Intégration Sociale, Québec, QC, Canada
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  • Lesley Budell
    Groupe de Recherche sur le Système Nerveux Central and Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada

    Département de Stomatologie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada
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  • Pierre Rainville
    Groupe de Recherche sur le Système Nerveux Central and Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada

    Département de Stomatologie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada
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  • Jean Decety
    Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, and Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
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  • Philip L. Jackson
    Address reprint requests to Philip L. Jackson, PhD, École de psychologie, Pavillon Félix-Antoine-Savard, 2325, rue des Bibliothèques, Université Laval, Québec (Québec) G1V 0A6.
    École de psychologie, Faculté des Sciences Sociales, Université Laval, Québec, QC, Canada

    Centre Interdisciplinaire de Recherche en Réadaptation et Intégration Sociale, Québec, QC, Canada

    Centre de Recherche de l'Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Québec, Québec, QC, Canada
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      While self-pain motivates protective behaviors and self-oriented feelings, the perception of others' pain often motivates concern and prosocial behaviors toward the person suffering. The conflicting consequences of these 2 states raise the question of how pain is perceived in others when one is actually in pain. Two conflicting hypotheses could predict the interaction between these 2 signals: the threat value of pain hypothesis and the shared-representation model of pain empathy. Here, we asked 33 healthy volunteers exposed to acute experimental pain to judge the intensity of the pain felt by models expressing different levels of pain in video clips. Results showed that compared to a control warm stimulus, a stimulus causing self-pain increased the perception of others' pain for clips depicting male pain expressions but decreased the perceived intensity of female high pain expressions in both male and female participants. These results show that one's own pain state influences the perception of pain in others and that the gender of the person observed influences this interaction.


      By documenting the effects of self-pain on pain perception in others, this study provides a better understanding of the shared mechanisms between self-pain and others' pain processing. It could ultimately provide clues as to how the health status of health care professionals could affect their ability to assess their patients' pain.

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