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Impact of age on the facial expression of pain

Authors
Journal
Journal of Psychosomatic Research
0022-3999
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
64
Issue
3
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2007.09.010
Keywords
  • Age
  • Emotional Expressivity
  • Facial Expression
  • Pain
Disciplines
  • Communication

Abstract

Abstract Objective Old age has traditionally been viewed as being associated with a decline in emotional expressivity. Interestingly, empirical evidence based on analyses of facial expressions contradicts this traditionally view and points to absence of (or only very slight) age-related changes in emotional expressivity. However, this research on emotional expressivity in older persons has neglected one important emotionally colored state—expression of pain. In order to close this gap, we aimed to investigate the influence of age on the facial expression of pain. Methods Forty young (mean age, 24.1 years) and 61 elderly (mean age, 72.3 years) subjects were investigated for their facial (Facial Action Coding System) and subjective responses to noxious mechanical and electrical stimuli of various intensities. Results Young and elderly subjects did not differ with respect to the frequency of facial responses during noxious mechanical and electrical stimulations. Moreover, age had no significant impact on the pain specificity of these facial responses. Furthermore, we found no significant age differences in self-report ratings of pressure and electrical pain, thus indicating that both age groups experienced comparable amounts of pain intensities. Conclusion These findings suggest that the facial expression of pain, like facial expressions of other affective states, remains unchanged in older persons. Consequently, elderly individuals seem to communicate pain through their facial expression as validly as younger individuals do.

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