A Perspective-Taking Manipulation Leads to Greater Empathy and Less Pain During the Cold Pressor Task

Published:August 27, 2015DOI:


      • In this experimental study, intimacy and operant models were contrasted.
      • Perspective-taking instructions led to greater empathy and less pain.
      • Observers' empathic feelings and perceived validation were related to less pain.
      • Empathy and validation did not reinforce pain, supporting the intimacy process model.


      The objectives of this study were to demonstrate that empathy and validation could be increased in an observing partner who received a brief perspective-taking manipulation, resulting in less pain severity and greater pain tolerance in their partner, who experienced experimental pain. In addition, we examined the correlations between perceived empathy/validation and behavioral ratings of validation and invalidation. In 126 pain-free romantic couples, 1 partner was randomly assigned to complete the cold pressor task while the other observed. The couples were randomly assigned to a) a perspective-taking group in which observing partners were privately instructed to take the perspective of the pain participant; or b) a control group in which observing partners received only a description of the task. Compared with the control group, pain participants in the perspective-taking group reported that observing partners had been more validating during the task and they also reported significantly lower pain severity. In addition, pain participants' reports of their partners' validation and observing partners' self-reported empathic feelings were significantly related to lower pain severity over time. The results provide support that perspective taking may induce empathic feelings, in addition to perceptions of validation, which in turn promotes emotion regulation during pain.


      The experimental evidence in this study suggests that empathic feelings can be induced in significant others with simple instructions, and this manipulation leads to less pain in their partners undergoing a painful task. The results suggest that perspective taking, empathy, and validation should be further investigated as pain intervention targets.

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