University of Oulu

Xu, Q., Ye, C., Li, X., Zhao, G., & Astikainen, P. (2023). Pain modulates early sensory brain responses to task-irrelevant emotional faces. European Journal of Pain, 27, 668– 681.

Pain modulates early sensory brain responses to task-irrelevant emotional faces

Saved in:
Author: Xu, Qianru1,2,3; Ye, Chaoxiong1,2,3,4; Li, Xueqiao3;
Organizations: 1Institute of Brain and Psychological Sciences, Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu, China
2Center for Machine Vision and Signal Analysis (CMVS), University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
3Department of Psychology, Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Research, University of Jyvaskyla, Jyväskylä, Finland
4Faculty of Social Sciences, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: embargoed
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2023
Publish Date: 2024-02-20


Background: Pain can have a significant impact on an individual’s life, as it has both cognitive and affective consequences. However, our understanding of how pain affects social cognition is limited. Previous studies have shown that pain, as an alarm stimulus, can disrupt cognitive processing when focal attention is required, but whether pain also affects task-irrelevant perceptual processing remains unclear.

Methods: We examined the effect of laboratory-induced pain on event-related potentials (ERPs) to neutral, sad and happy faces before, during and after a cold pressor pain. ERPs reflecting different stages of visual processing (P1, N170 and P2) were analysed.

Results: Pain decreased the P1 amplitude for happy faces and increased the N170 amplitude for happy and sad faces compared to the pre-pain phase. The effect of pain on N170 was also observed in the post-pain phase. The P2 component was not affected by pain.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that pain alters both featural (P1) and structural face-sensitive (N170) visual encoding of emotional faces, even when the faces are irrelevant to the task. While the effect of pain on initial feature encoding seemed to be disruptive and specific to happy faces, later processing stages showed long-lasting and increased activity for both sad and happy emotional faces.

Significance: The observed alterations in face perception due to pain may have consequences for real-life interactions, as fast and automatic encoding of facial emotions is important for social interactions.

see all

Series: European journal of pain
ISSN: 1090-3801
ISSN-E: 1532-2149
ISSN-L: 1090-3801
Volume: 27
Issue: 6
Pages: 668 - 681
DOI: 10.1002/ejp.2097
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 515 Psychology
3112 Neurosciences
Copyright information: © 2023 European Pain Federation - EFIC. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Xu, Q., Ye, C., Li, X., Zhao, G., & Astikainen, P. (2023). Pain modulates early sensory brain responses to task-irrelevant emotional faces. European Journal of Pain, 00, 1– 14. which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.