Expertise modulates the perception of pain in others

Curr Biol. 2007 Oct 9;17(19):1708-13. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.09.020. Epub 2007 Sep 27.


Perceiving the pain of others activates a large part of the pain matrix in the observer [1]. Because this shared neural representation can lead to empathy or personal distress [2, 3], regulatory mechanisms must operate in people who inflict painful procedures in their practice with patient populations in order to prevent their distress from impairing their ability to be of assistance. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging MRI study, physicians who practice acupuncture were compared to naive participants while observing animated visual stimuli depicting needles being inserted into different body parts, including the mouth region, hands, and feet. Results indicate that the anterior insula somatosensory cortex, periaqueducal gray, and anterior cingulate cortex were significantly activated in the control group, but not in the expert group, who instead showed activation of the medial and superior prefrontal cortices and the temporoparietal junction, involved in emotion regulation and theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture*
  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / psychology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology