Beyond Conformity: Social Influences on Pain Reports and Physiology
Emotion, Vol. 16(1), p. 24-32, Feb 2016
33 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2016
Date Written: February 2016
Social information can profoundly influence behavior, but its effects are often explained in terms of “conformity,” implying effects on decision-making and communication rather than deeper sensory modulation. We examined whether information about other people’s pain reports affected both participants’ pain experience and skin conductance responses (SCR) during pain. Sixty volunteers experienced painful heat stimulation preceded by 2 kinds of informational cues: (a) non-reinforced social information indicating low or high pain ratings from previous participants; and (b) reinforced conditioned stimuli (CSlow, CShigh). Both high-pain social information and CShigh cues enhanced pain and SCRs relative to their respective controls, with particularly robust effects of social information. Effects of both manipulations on both pain and SCRs were mediated by trial-by-trial pain expectancies. These results demonstrate strong social influences on pain and autonomic responses, and suggest that expectations from multiple sources can influence pain physiology independent of reinforcement.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation