Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Exp Brain Res. 2015 May 15. [Epub ahead of print]

Subliminal perception of others' physical pain and pleasure

Studies indicate that explicit and implicit processing of affectively charged stimuli may be reflected in specific behavioral markers and physiological signatures. This study investigated whether the pleasantness ratings of a neutral target were affected by subliminal perception of pleasant and painful facial expressions. Participants were presented images depicting face of non-famous models being slapped (painful condition), caressed (pleasant condition) or touched (neutral condition) by the right hand of another individual. In particular, we combined the continuous flash suppression technique with the affective misattribution procedure (AMP) to explore subliminal empathic processing. Measures of pupil reactivity along with empathy traits were also collected. Results showed that participants rated the neutral target as less or more likeable congruently with the painful or pleasant facial expression presented, respectively. Pupil dilation was associated both with the implicit attitudes (AMP score) and with empathic concern. Thus, the results provide behavioral and physiological evidence that state-related empathic reactivity can occur at an entirely subliminal level and that it is linked to autonomic responses and empathic traits.

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