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Decoding of facial expressions of pain in avatars: Does sex matter?

Meister, E; Horn-Hofmann, C; Kunz, M; Krumhuber, EG; Lautenbacher, S; (2021) Decoding of facial expressions of pain in avatars: Does sex matter? Scandinavian Journal of Pain , 21 (1) pp. 174-182. 10.1515/sjpain-2020-0078. Green open access

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES: The decoding of facial expressions of pain plays a crucial role in pain diagnostic and clinical decision making. For decoding studies, it is necessary to present facial expressions of pain in a flexible and controllable fashion. Computer models (avatars) of human facial expressions of pain allow for systematically manipulating specific facial features. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether avatars can show realistic facial expressions of pain and how the sex of the avatars influence the decoding of pain by human observers. METHODS: For that purpose, 40 female (mean age: 23.9 years) and 40 male (mean age: 24.6 years) observers watched 80 short videos showing computer-generated avatars, who presented the five clusters of facial expressions of pain (four active and one stoic cluster) identified by Kunz and Lautenbacher (2014). After each clip, observers were asked to provide ratings for the intensity of pain the avatars seem to experience and the certainty of judgement, i.e. if the shown expression truly represents pain. RESULTS: Results show that three of the four active facial clusters were similarly accepted as valid expressions of pain by the observers whereas only one cluster (“raised eyebrows”) was disregarded. The sex of the observed avatars influenced the decoding of pain as indicated by increased intensity and elevated certainty ratings for female avatars. CONCLUSIONS: The assumption of different valid facial expressions of pain could be corroborated in avatars, which contradicts the idea of only one uniform pain face. The observers’ rating of the avatars’ pain was influenced by the avatars’ sex, which resembles known observer biases for humans. The use of avatars appeared to be a suitable method in research on the decoding of the facial expression of pain, mirroring closely the known forms of human facial expressions.

Type: Article
Title: Decoding of facial expressions of pain in avatars: Does sex matter?
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1515/sjpain-2020-0078
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1515/sjpain-2020-0078
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the version of record. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
Keywords: avatar; decoding; pain; pain face; sex
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10119629
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