OBJECTIVE: Judgments about an individual's pain can be profoundly important to sufferers. Relatively few studies have examined variables that may affect observers' judgments of the pain of others. The present article reports two studies investigating the relationship between different kinds of exposure to pain problems and observers' ratings of the pain intensity of patients.
DESIGN: In the first study, 82 observers were classified into groups with positive and negative family histories of chronic pain. They viewed a videotape showing the facial expressions of shoulder pain patients undergoing physiotherapy assessments and rated the pain experienced by the subjects. In the second study, the data from observers having no experience with pain problems were compared with data collected from therapists having considerable experience with pain problems.
RESULTS: Observers with a positive family history of chronic pain attributed greater pain to the patients than those with a negative family history of chronic pain. Professionals' pain judgments were lower than those of control subjects.
CONCLUSIONS: Together, the findings imply that one's experiences with the different problems of pain patients may affect pain judgments. Alternative interpretations of the findings are considered.