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The role of spatial frequency information in the recognition of facial expressions of pain


, : The role of spatial frequency information in the recognition of facial expressions of pain. Pain 156(9): 1670-1682

Being able to detect pain from facial expressions is critical for pain communication. Alongside identifying the specific facial codes used in pain recognition, there are other types of more basic perceptual features, such as spatial frequency (SF), which refers to the amount of detail in a visual display. Low SF carries coarse information, which can be seen from a distance, and high SF carries fine-detailed information that can only be perceived when viewed close up. As this type of basic information has not been considered in the recognition of pain, we therefore investigated the role of low-SF and high-SF information in the decoding of facial expressions of pain. Sixty-four pain-free adults completed 2 independent tasks: a multiple expression identification task of pain and core emotional expressions and a dual expression "either-or" task (pain vs fear, pain vs happiness). Although both low-SF and high-SF information make the recognition of pain expressions possible, low-SF information seemed to play a more prominent role. This general low-SF bias would seem an advantageous way of potential threat detection, as facial displays will be degraded if viewed from a distance or in peripheral vision. One exception was found, however, in the "pain-fear" task, where responses were not affected by SF type. Together, this not only indicates a flexible role for SF information that depends on task parameters (goal context) but also suggests that in challenging visual conditions, we perceive an overall affective quality of pain expressions rather than detailed facial features.

US$19.90

PMID: 26075962

DOI: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000226


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