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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Smiling in pain: explorations of its social motives

Miriam Kunz, Kenneth Prkachin, Stefan Lautenbacher
Pain Research and Treatment 2013, 2013: 128093
24236233
Studies of facial responses during experimental and clinical pain have revealed a surprising phenomenon, namely, that a considerable number of individuals respond with a smile. So far, it is not known why smiling occurs during pain. It is possible that the "smile of pain" is socially motivated (e.g., reinforcing social bonds while undergoing an unpleasant experience). The present studies were conducted in an attempt to address the role of social motives in smiling during pain. In two studies, we varied the quantitative (level of sociality) and qualitative (properties of the relationship between interactants) components of the situations in which participants received painful stimulation. Participants' faces were video-recorded and the occurrence of smiling was assessed. The occurrence of smiling differed depending on stimulus intensity and the properties of the relationship between interactants. Smiling occurred more often during the painful compared to nonpainful stimulation. Whereas the presence of a stranger (experimenter) reduced the smiling behavior, the presence of an intimate other increased it. Slight variations in the level of sociality, however, had no effect on the degree of smiling. Social motives possibly aimed at strengthening social bonds and thus ensuring social support appear to underlie smiling during pain.

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