Sub-optimal presentation of painful facial expressions enhances readiness for action and pain perception following electrocutaneous stimulation

Ali Khatibi*, Martien Schrooten, Katrien Bosmans, Stephanie Volders, Johan W S Vlaeyen, Eva Van den Bussche

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Observation of others' painful facial expressions has been shown to facilitate behavioral response tendencies and to increase pain perception in the observer. However, in previous studies, expressions were clearly visible to the observer and none of those studies investigated the effect of presence of peripheral stimulation on response tendencies. This study focuses on the effect of sub-optimal presentation of painful facial expressions in the presence and absence of an electrocutaneous stimulus. Twenty-two healthy individuals categorized arrow targets which were preceded by a sub-optimally presented facial expression (painful, happy, or neutral in different blocks). On half of the trials, aversive electrocutaneous stimulation was delivered to the wrist of the non-dominant hand between the presentation of facial expression and target (an arrow directing to right or left). Participants' task was to indicate direction of the arrow as soon as it appears on the screen by pressing the corresponding key on the keyboard and to rate their pain at the end of block. Analysis showed that responses were faster to targets preceded by aversive stimulation than to targets not preceded by stimulation, especially following painful expressions. Painfulness ratings were higher following painful expressions than following happy expressions. These findings suggest that sub-optimally presented painful expressions can enhance readiness to act to neutral, non-pain-related targets after aversive stimulation and can increase pain perception.

Original languageEnglish
Article number913
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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