Vicarious experiences and detection accuracy while observing pain and touch: The effect of perspective taking.

Research paper by S S Vandenbroucke, G G Crombez, T T Loeys, L L Goubert

Indexed on: 03 Apr '15Published on: 03 Apr '15Published in: Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics


In this study, we investigated the effects of observing pain and touch in others on vicarious somatosensory experiences and the detection of subtle somatosensory stimuli. Furthermore, the effect of taking a first- versus a third-person perspective was investigated. Undergraduates (N = 57) viewed videos depicting hands being pricked (pain), hands being touched by a cotton swab (touch), and control scenes (same approaching movement of a hand as in the other video categories, but without the painful/touching object) while experiencing vibrotactile stimuli themselves on the left, on the right, or on both hands. Participants reported the location at which they felt a somatosensory stimulus. The vibrotactile stimuli and visual scenes were applied in a spatially congruent or incongruent way, and other trials were presented without vibrotactile stimuli. The videos were depicted in first-person perspective and third-person perspective (i.e., the videos were shown upside down). We calculated the proportions of correct responses and false alarms (i.e., numbers of trials on which a vicarious somatosensory experience was reported congruent or incongruent to the site of the visual information). Pain-related scenes facilitated the detection of tactile stimuli and augmented the number of vicarious somatosensory experiences, as compared with observing the touch or control videos. Detection accuracy was higher for videos depicted in first-person perspective than for those in third-person perspective. Perspective had no effect on the number of vicarious somatosensory experiences. This study indicates that somatosensory detection is particularly enhanced during the observation of pain-related scenes, as compared to the observation of touch or control videos. These research findings further demonstrate that perspective taking impacts somatosensory detection, but not the report of vicarious experiences.