Osborn, Jody (2011)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
Recently, observation of pain has been linked to areas of the brain coding the sensory/discriminative aspects of pain (Avenanti et al., 2005; Avenanti et al., 2006). The experiential qualities associated with observing another in pain are poorly understood. In this thesis, we demonstrate that pain generated by observation of others in pain is reported by a significant minority of healthy individuals. The pain reported is mild, transient and occurs in the same location as the observed pain. Ten pain responders were matched with ten non-responders to take part in an fMRI study observing others in pain. Responders activated emotional and sensory brain regions associated with pain while the non-responders activated very little. Reports of pain were more likely to be accompanied by a pain memory. Pain responders are quicker to represent the perspective of others and have a more flexible sense of body ownership but are not more likely to report somatic symptoms during incongruent sensori-motor feedback. These findings provide convincing evidence that some people can readily experience pain during observation of others‘ pain. It is plausible that the mechanism underpinning pain reports evoked by observation of pain is not specific to pain processing per se.
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