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Impact of being primed with social deception upon observer responses to others’ pain

De Ruddere, Liesa,*; Goubert, Liesbeta; Vervoort, Tinea; Kappesser, Judithb; Crombez, Geerta

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doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2012.10.002

Summary Priming observers with social deception is related to negatively evaluating the patients. Negatively evaluating patients, in turn, influences observer responses towards the patients’ pain.

ABSTRACT This study examined whether priming with social deception affects responses (pain estimates, self-reported sympathy, inclination to help) towards others’ pain. We further explored whether the priming effect is mediated by the valence of the patients (positive/negative), as indicated by the participants. First, participants (N = 55) took part in an ‘independent’ delayed memory study in which they read either a neutral text about the use of the health care system (neutral condition) or a text about its misuse (social deception condition). Second, participants watched videos of pain patients performing pain-inducing activities. Participants rated the patients’ pain, the sympathy felt for the patients, and the inclination to help the patients. Third, the participants re-estimated patients’ pain when patients’ self-report of pain was provided. Fourth, pictures of the patients were shown and participants indicated the valence of the patients (positive/negative). Results revealed no direct effect of priming with social deception. However, priming with social deception was related to less positive rating of the valence of the patients, that were related to lower ratings on pain and sympathy, and to larger discrepancies between the ratings of the patients and the observers. The results indicate that observers attribute less pain, feel less sympathy, and take patients’ self-reported pain intensity less into account when the patients are evaluated less positively, which is likely to occur when a cognitive scheme of social deception is primed.

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

aDepartment of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

bInstitute of Psychology, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany

*Corresponding author. Address: Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B-9000 Gent, Belgium. Tel.: +32 (0)9 264 86 11; fax: +32 (0)9 264 64 89.


Submitted May 19, 2012; revised August 23, 2012; accepted October 1, 2012.

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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