Viewing Pain and Happy Faces Elicited Similar Changes in Postural Body Sway

<div><p>Affective facial expressions are potent social cues that can induce relevant physiological changes, as well as behavioral dispositions in the observer. Previous studies have revealed that angry faces induced significant reductions in body sway as compared with neutral and happy faces, reflecting an avoidance behavioral tendency as freezing. The expression of pain is usually considered an unpleasant stimulus, but also a relevant cue for delivering effective care and social support. Nevertheless, there are few data about behavioral dispositions elicited by the observation of pain expressions in others. The aim of the present research was to evaluate approach–avoidance tendencies by using video recordings of postural body sway when participants were standing and observing facial expressions of pain, happy and neutral. We hypothesized that although pain faces would be rated as more unpleasant than the other faces, they would provoke significant changes in postural body sway as compared to neutral facial expressions. Forty healthy female volunteers (mean age 25) participated in the study. Amplitude of forward movements and backward movements in the anterior-posterior and medial-lateral axes were obtained. Statistical analyses revealed that pain faces were the most unpleasant stimuli, and that both happy and pain faces were more arousing than neutral ones. Happy and pain faces also elicited greater amplitude of body sway in the anterior-posterior axes as compared with neutral faces. In addition, significant positive correlations were found between body sway elicited by pain faces and pleasantness and empathic ratings, suggesting that changes in postural body sway elicited by pain faces might be associated with approach and cooperative behavioral responses.</p></div>