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Pain evaluation in self and others in autism spectrum disorder

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The picture of pain sensation in autism and its relationship with perception of pain in others is currently far from clear. A common observation in case studies is that autistic individuals are more pain insensitive. However, this hypothesis has recently been challenged by experimental evidence indicating that physiological sensitivity in autism may even be enhanced. Evaluation of own pain
might also relate to one’s ability to evaluate pain in others. There is some experimental evidence indicating that people generally tend to underestimate how much pain another person feels. Our study investigated whether this underestimation bias is stronger in individuals with autism and how this evaluation may be associated with one’s individual pain sensitivity. Using electric pain stimulation, we tested whether autistic and non-autistic male adults (n = 16 in each group) rated the intensity and unpleasantness of their pain differently across various intensity levels. Subsequently, participants were shown videos depicting the facial expressions of patients who had been filmed during more or less painful physiotherapy exercise. We compared autistic and non-autistic individuals in their ability to evaluate levels of pain intensity in patients, and their own unpleasantness elicited by watching these videos. Comparing the two groups in their individual pain sensitivity and the evaluation of pain intensity in
others, we observed an interesting interaction effect. We found evidence for comparable pain sensitivity in autism, but our results highlight differences in the evaluation of others’ pain and the relationship of pain evaluation in self and others.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventThe Social Brain - Moltkes Palæ, København, Denmark
Duration: 5 Oct 20148 Oct 2014
Conference number: FEBS


ConferenceThe Social Brain
LocationMoltkes Palæ

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