Neural correlates of prosocial behavior towards persons in pain in healthcare providers

Biol Psychol. 2017 Sep;128:1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.06.005. Epub 2017 Jun 30.


Pain perceived in others can be a stressful signal that elicits personal distress and discomfort that can interfere with prosocial behaviors. Healthcare providers (HCPs) have to be able to regulate these self-oriented feelings to offer optimal help to patients in pain. However, previous studies have documented a tendency in HCPs to underestimate the pain of patients that could interfere with optimal help to these patients. The aim of this study was to compare HCP and control (CTL) participants' prosocial behavior towards persons in pain and their associated brain responses. HCPs and CTL participants took part in a newly developed prosocial task during which they were asked to choose how much time they wanted to offer to help patients in pain. It was shown that compared to CTL participants, HCPs offered more help to persons in pain and reported less trait personal distress when facing suffering in others. Additional evidence was provided by the fMRI results, which indicated that compared to CTL participants, HCP participants showed different pattern of activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, bilateral precuneus and the posterior cingulate cortex during the prosocial task, suggesting that the underlying mechanisms of the difference in prosocial behaviors could vary according to the degree to which processes such as mentalizing and cognitive control are solicited.

Keywords: DLPFC; Healthcare providers; Pain; Prosocial.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology

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