Investigating the effects of pain observation on approach and withdrawal actions
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Previous research has shown that observing another individual receiving a painful stimulus leads to motor facilitation as indexed by faster reaction times. The current study explores whether the type of action that is executed modulates this facilitation effect. Specifically, we examined whether approach-like and withdraw-like movements are differentially influenced by pain observation. In experiment 1, participants performed key presses (approach) and releases (withdraw) after observing another person in pain (vs. no pain). In experiment 2, participants used a joystick to make forward (approach) and backward (withdraw) movements after observing another person in pain (vs. no pain). Across both experiments, we did not find evidence for differential effects of pain observation on approach-like and withdraw-like movements. We do, however, report a robust response-general effect of pain observation on motor behaviour (i.e., faster reaction times after pain observation vs. no pain, regardless of movement type). We discuss these results in relation to the wider emotion, attention, and social neuroscience of empathy literatures.
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