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Hyperalgesia when observing pain-related images is a genuine bias in perception and enhances autonomic responses

Anaïs Chapon Caroline Perchet 1 Luis Garcia-Larrea 1 Maud Frot 2 
2 NeuroPain - CRNL
CRNL - Centre de recherche en neurosciences de Lyon - Lyon Neuroscience Research Center
Abstract : Observing pain in others can enhance our own pain. Two aspects of this effect remain unknown or controversial: first, whether it depends on the 'painfulness' of the visual stimulus; second, whether it reflects a genuine bias in perception or rather a bias in the memory encoding of the percept. Pain ratings and vegetative skin responses were recorded while 21 healthy volunteers received electric nociceptive shocks under three experimental conditions: (i) observing a painful contact between the body and a harmful object; (ii) observing a non-painful body contact, (iii) observing a control scene where the body and the object are not in contact. Pain reports and vegetative responses were enhanced exclusively when the subjects observed a painful body contact. The effect on perception was immediate, abated 3 sec after the shock, and positively correlated with the magnitude of vegetative arousal. This suggests that (a) hyperalgesia during observation of painful scenes was induced by their pain-related nature, and not by the simple body contact, and (b) hyperalgesia emerged from a very rapid bias in the perceptual encoding of the stimulus, and was not the result of a retrospective bias in memory recollection. Observing pain-depicting scenes can modify the processing of concomitant somatic stimuli, increasing their arousal value and shifting perception toward more painful levels.
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Anaïs Chapon, Caroline Perchet, Luis Garcia-Larrea, Maud Frot. Hyperalgesia when observing pain-related images is a genuine bias in perception and enhances autonomic responses. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2019, 9 (1), pp.15266. ⟨10.1038/s41598-019-51743-3⟩. ⟨hal-02472466⟩



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