Study: Pain and Empathy: The Effect of Self-Oriented Feelings on the Detection of Painful Facial Expressions

Painful facial expressions have been shown to trigger affective responses among observers. However, there is so far no clear indication about the self- or other-oriented nature of these feelings. The purpose of this study was to assess whether facial expressions of pain are unconsciously associated with other-oriented feelings (empathic concern) or with self-oriented feelings (personal distress)…

The present study suggests that painful expressions are unconsciously related to self-oriented feelings of distress and that their threat value might account for this effect.

These findings thus shed new light on the automatic relationship between painful expressions and the affective components of empathy.