Pain can be influenced by its social context. We aimed to examine under controlled experimental conditions how empathy from a partner and personal attachment style affect pain report, tolerance, and facial expressions of pain. Fifty-four participants, divided into secure, anxious, and avoidant attachment style groups, underwent a cold pressor task with their partners present. We manipulated how much empathy the participants perceived that their partners had for them. We observed a significant main effect of perceived empathy on pain report, with greater pain reported in the high perceived empathy condition. No such effects were found for pain tolerance or facial display. We also found a significant interaction of empathy with attachment style group, with the avoidant group reporting and displaying less pain than the secure and the anxious groups in the high perceived empathy condition. No such findings were observed in the low empathy condition. These results suggest that empathy from one's partner may influence pain report beyond behavioral reactions. In addition, the amount of pain report and expression that people show in high empathy conditions depends on their attachment style.
- social support
- social presence