About the Lab

Pain is the most pervasive and universal form of human distress, yet under-management is a serious problem for individuals, those who care for them, and the public at large.  These challenges arise in part due to the complexity of expressing and recognizing pain.

Both internal and external factors influence the expression of pain, including the social context, culture, coping skills, experience with pain and personality.  Likewise, recognition of pain in others is complex and challenging and may be affected by personal biases and expectations, professional background, relationship to the person in pain, and perceived ability to help.  For a long time, these psychological and social influences were largely ignored in pain management, with researchers focusing on tissue damage as the primary source of pain.  In the last decade, however; there has been a great deal of interest and resources dedicated to understanding the broader psychosocial aspects of pain, and to improving how pain is understood, treated, and controlled by addressing the social and psychological determinants of pain.   Nevertheless, too many people continue to suffer from acute and chronic pain without adequate treatment or relief.

This lab aims to target weaknesses in pain management by investigating how social and psychological factors influence the expression and recognition of pain.  In doing so, we seek out opportunities to collaborate with medical professionals and research scientists from a broad range of specialties, in order to improve upon current pain evaluation strategies in the health care field, and to build a more complete understanding of the experience of pain.  We are also eager to explore the experience of pain throughout the lifespan, and the differences in expression and recognition that arise from developmental change.  This is especially important as undertreatment is most prevalent in young children, the elderly, and those with cognitive deficits.

See our publications listed on this website for more details.


The following describes some of subtopics and issues we presently are exploring:

1) A sociocommunications perspective, recognizing powerful social determinants of pain often neglected in traditional models of pain.

2) The distinction between automatic (e.g., reflexive withdrawal, facial expression) and controlled (e.g., self-report, using a cane) expressions of pain by victims, as well as between observer’s automatic (ex. gut feeling of sympathy) and controlled (ex. consciously debating if they faking) reactions to the pain of others.

3) Strategies used by observers to discern faked, painful distress from genuine pain expressions from one another, and how effective they can accomplish this.

4) Study of nonverbal expressions of pain, primarily facial activity, as a powerful form of communication during the pain experience.  Facial Action Coding plays a large role in this area of our research; we use facial expression, identified by neurophysiological and muscle activation to infer pain and emotion and to provide information about reactions to various events.  We have developed variations of this measure to focus directly upon pain in infants and children, the Neonatal Facial Coding Scale, and the Children’s Facial Action Coding Scale.

5) Measures of pain for people with communication limitations for clinical and research purposes.

6) Psychometric evaluation of self-report and nonverbal measures of pain.

7) Differences in how individuals perceive their own and others’ pain expressions

8 ) Cue utilization and biases in observers responsible for judging another’s pain.

9) Voluntary control mechanisms in pain expression associated with deception and malingering.

10) The effect of context, medium, and individual differences on judgments of various pain behaviors.