You are here : Version anglaise > Training > Doctoral studies

Publié le November 16, 2018 | Updated on December 20, 2018

Perceiving the pain in others' faces : from subliminal processing to activation of involved neuronal networks

Claire CZEKALA - Under the supervision of François Mauguière and Maud Gaëlle Frot

The aim of this work is to study painful facial expression processing through psychophysical and neurophysiological approaches. Contrary to the basic emotions, pain is both a sensory and an emotional experience and these two aspects are encoded in the facial expression of pain. In that sense, painful facial expressions are richer and more complex than the facial expression of others emotions. In a first phase, we showed that painful facial expressions trigger more empathy than other emotional facial expressions in healthy subjects. Moreover, a 100ms-masked presentation of faces is enough to subliminally detect pain but not gender. In a second phase, we studied pre-conscious processing of painful facial expressions in patients suffering from refractory epilepsy having intracranial electrodes implanted in the insular cortex and amygdala for stereotaxic exploration of epilepsy. To this purpose, we diverted the patients' attention from the emotional aspects of the faces by asking them to focus on the gender and we recorded evoked potentials to pain and other emotional faces. Results showed an early activation in the anterior part of the insula (onset latency around 131ms, peak latency 180ms post stimulus) followed by an amygdala response (onset latency around 273ms, peak latency 363ms post stimulus). Response to pain faces is larger than that to other emotional faces in anterior insula but anterior-insula and amygdala activations are not pain specific. Posterior part of the insula also responds to painful faces but the amplitude of the evoked potentials do not differ from that of potentials evoked by neutral faces. In this way, even if the pain face contains a great amount of information, the human- being is able to rapidly detect it and to be empathic enough to provide the help needed for others in pain. This ability would be possible through anterior insula activation, thought to be a relay between nociception and emotional reaction to pain