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Experimenter audience effects on young adults' facial expressions during pain. Badali, Melanie


Facial expression has been used as a measure of pain in clinical and experimental studies. The Sociocommunications Model of Pain (T. Hadjistavropoulos, K. Craig, & S. Fuchs-Lacelle, 2004) characterizes facial movements during pain as both expressions of inner experience and communications to other people that must be considered in the social contexts in which they occur. While research demonstrates that specific facial movements may be outward manifestations of pain states, less attention has been paid to the extent to which contextual factors influence facial movements during pain. Experimenters are an inevitable feature of research studies on facial expression during pain and study of their social impact is merited. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect of experimenter presence on participants’ facial expressions during pain. Healthy young adults (60 males, 60 females) underwent painful stimulation induced by a cold pressor in three social contexts: alone; alone with knowledge of an experimenter watching through a one-way mirror; and face-to-face with an experimenter. Participants provided verbal self-report ratings of pain. Facial behaviours during pain were coded with the Facial Action Coding System (P. Ekman, W. Friesen, & J. Hager, 2002) and rated by naïve judges. Participants’ facial expressions of pain varied with the context of the pain experience condition but not with verbally self-reported levels of pain. Participants who were alone were more likely to display facial actions typically associated with pain than participants who were being observed by an experimenter who was in another room or sitting across from them. Naïve judges appeared to be influenced by these facial expressions as, on average, they rated the participants who were alone as experiencing more pain than those who were observed. Facial expressions shown by people experiencing pain can communicate the fact that they are feeling pain. However, facial expressions can be influenced by factors in the social context such as the presence of an experimenter. The results suggest that facial expressions during pain made by adults should be viewed at least in part as communications, subject to intrapersonal and interpersonal influences, rather than direct read-outs of experience.

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