Beyond Conformity: Social Influences on Pain Reports and Physiology

Emotion, Vol. 16(1), p. 24-32, Feb 2016

33 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2016

See all articles by Leonie Koban

Leonie Koban

University of Colorado at Boulder

Tor Wager

University of Colorado at Boulder

Date Written: February 2016

Abstract

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

Koban, Leonie and Wager, Tor, Beyond Conformity: Social Influences on Pain Reports and Physiology (February 2016). Emotion, Vol. 16(1), p. 24-32, Feb 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2857944

Leonie Koban

University of Colorado at Boulder ( email )

1070 Edinboro Drive
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Tor Wager (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder ( email )

Boulder, CO

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