Affective touch and attachment style modulate pain: A laser-evoked potentials study

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Affective touch and cutaneous pain are two sub-modalities of interoception
with contrasting affective qualities (pleasantness/unpleasantness) and social
meanings (care/harm), yet their direct relationship has not been investigated.
In 50 women, taking into account individual attachment styles, we assessed
the role of affective touch and particularly the contribution of the C tactile
(CT) system in subjective and electrophysiological responses to noxious skin
stimulation, namely N1 and N2-P2 laser-evoked potentials. When pleasant,
slow (versus fast) velocity touch was administered to the (non-CT-containing)
palm of the hand, higher attachment anxiety predicted increased subjective
pain ratings, in the same direction as changes in N2 amplitude. By contrast,
when pleasant touch was administered to CT-containing skin of the arm,
higher attachment anxiety predicted attenuated N1 and N2 amplitudes.
Higher attachment avoidance predicted opposite results. Thus, CT-based
affective touch can modulate pain in early and late processing stages (N1
and N2 components), with the direction of effects depending on attachment
style. Affective touch not involving the CT system seems to affect predominately
the conscious perception of pain, possibly reflecting socio-cognitive
factors further up the neurocognitive hierarchy. Affective touch may thus
convey information about available social resources and gate pain responses
depending on individual expectations of social support.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160009
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
Issue number1708
Early online date19 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


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