Original Report| Volume 13, ISSUE 12, P1198-1205, December 2012

We Discount the Pain of Others When Pain Has No Medical Explanation

Published:November 05, 2012DOI:


      The present studies investigated the impact of medical and psychosocial information on the observer’s estimations of pain, emotional responses, and behavioral tendencies toward another person in pain. Participants were recruited from the community (study 1: N = 39 women, 10 men; study 2: N = 41 women, 12 men) and viewed videos of 4 patients expressing pain, paired with vignettes describing absence or presence of 1) medical evidence for the pain and 2) psychosocial influences on the pain experience. A similar methodology was used for studies 1 and 2, except for the explicit manipulation of the presence/absence of psychosocial influences in study 2. For each patient video, participant estimations of each patient’s pain and their own distress, sympathy, and inclination to help were assessed. In both studies, results indicated lower ratings on all measures when medical evidence for pain was absent. Overall, no effect of psychosocial influences was found, except in study 2 where participants indicated feeling less distress when psychosocial influences were present. The findings suggest that pain is taken less seriously when there is no medical evidence for the pain. The findings are discussed in terms of potential mechanisms underlying pain estimations as well as implications for caregiving behavior.


      The present studies indicate that observers take the pain of others less seriously in the absence of clear medical evidence for the pain. These findings are important to further understand the social context in which pain for which there is no clear medical explanation is experienced.

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