Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 234, Issue 9, pp 2677–2686 | Cite as

Repeated exposure to vicarious pain alters electrocortical processing of pain expressions

  • Michel-Pierre Coll
  • Mathieu Grégoire
  • Kenneth M. Prkachin
  • Philip L. JacksonEmail author
Research Article


Repeated exposure to others in pain has been shown to bias vicarious pain perception, but the neural correlates of this effect are currently not known. The current study therefore aimed at measuring electrocortical responses to facial expressions of pain following exposure to expressions of pain. To this end, a between-subject design was adopted. Participants in the Exposure group were exposed to facial expressions of intense pain, while the participants in the Control group were exposed to neutral expressions before performing the same pain detection task. As in previous studies, participants in the Exposure group showed a significantly more conservative bias when judging facial expressions pain, meaning that they were less inclined to judge moderate pain expressions as painful compared to participants in the Control group. Event-related potential analyses in response to pain or neutral expressions indicated that this effect was related to a relative decrease in the central late positive potential responses to pain expressions. Furthermore, while the early N170 response was not influenced by repeated exposure to pain expressions, the P100 component showed an adaptation effect in the Control group only. These results suggest that repeated exposure to vicarious pain do not influence early event-related potential responses to pain expressions but decreases the late central positive potential. These results are discussed in terms of changes in the perceived saliency of pain expressions following repeated exposure.


Facial expression Vicarious pain Event-related potential Late positive potential 



The authors would like to thank Pierre-Emmanuel Michon and Sophie Blais-Michaud for their technical assistance and Fanny Eugène for revision of the manuscript. M.P. Coll was funded by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) graduate scholarship and M. Grégoire by a Fonds de recherche du QuébecSanté (FRQ-S) graduate scholarship. P. L. Jackson was supported by salary grants from the CIHR and the FRQ-S. This research was funded by a CIHR grant to P. L. Jackson and K. M. Prkachin.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in this study were approved by the Institut de réadaptation en déficience physique de Québec research ethics committee and were in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michel-Pierre Coll
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Mathieu Grégoire
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Kenneth M. Prkachin
    • 4
  • Philip L. Jackson
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Faculté des sciences sociales, École de psychologie, Pavillon Félix-Antoine-SavardUniversité LavalQuebec CityCanada
  2. 2.Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et intégration socialeQuebec CityCanada
  3. 3.Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire en santé mentale de QuébecQuebec CityCanada
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada

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