Supremacy of Auditory Versus Visual Input in Somatic Empathy and Perceived Pain Level

Pain Manag Nurs. 2020 Apr;21(2):201-206. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2019.06.013. Epub 2019 Sep 26.


Background: Previous studies support the role of both auditory and visual stimuli in the evocation of empathy, but no research to date has explored the relative effectiveness of each on any type of empathy.

Aims: The present study compared how auditory and visual presentation influence somatic empathic arousal and perceived pain level.

Design: Exposure to auditory and/or visual information about an individual in pain was manipulated between groups of participants.

Methods: Students (N = 125) in several classes were randomly assigned in groups to one of three conditions-audio-only, video-only, or audio-video-each portraying an elderly man suffering from a painful kidney stone. Participants indicated his perceived pain and level of danger and relevant physical sensations and completed an empathy status scale.

Results: Consistent with the hypothesis, the results indicated that participants who were presented with an auditory stimulus (audio-only and audio-video conditions) estimated higher and more accurate pain and danger level for the patient compared with those in the visual-only group. Participants in the audio groups also reported experiencing physical sensations, whereas the visual-only group had no such report.

Conclusions: The study found that auditory information is more impactful in eliciting perceptions of pain in others compared with visual information. Experiences of clinical empathy and patient care may be improved by focusing on patients' auditory pain communications.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • California
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Hearing*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Measurement / standards*
  • Pain Measurement / statistics & numerical data
  • Perception*
  • Universities / organization & administration
  • Universities / statistics & numerical data
  • Vision, Ocular*