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Papers of the Week

Papers: 2 Sep 2023 - 8 Sep 2023

Basic Science, Psychology

Human Studies, Neurobiology


2023 Sep 06



Bodily maps of emotions and pain: tactile and hedonic sensitivity in healthy controls and patients experiencing chronic pain.


Ojala J, Suvilehto JT, Nummenmaa L, Kalso E


Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. Both pain and emotions are warning signals against outside harm. Interoception, bodily sensations of emotions can be assessed with the emBODY tool where participants colour the body parts where they feel different emotions. Bodily maps of emotions (BMoE) have been shown to be similar between healthy individuals independent of age, sex, cultural background, and language. We used this tool to analyze how these body maps may differ between healthy controls and patients with persistent pain. We recruited 118 patients with chronic pain. An algorithm-selected matched controls from 2348 individuals who were recruited through social media, message boards, and student mailing lists. After providing background information, the participants completed the bodily topography colouring tasks with the emBODY tool using tablets (patients) and online using their own devices (controls), for pain, sensitivity for tactile, nociceptive and hedonic stimuli, and for the 6 basic emotions and a neutral state. Patients with pain coloured significantly larger areas for pain and more negative emotions. On the whole, their BMoEs were dampened compared with healthy controls. They also coloured more areas for nociceptive but not for tactile or hedonic sensitivity. Patients and controls marked different body areas as sensitive to nociceptive and tactile stimulation, but there was no difference in sensitivity to hedonic touch. Our findings suggest that emotional processing changes when pain persists, and this can be assessed with these colouring tasks. BMoEs may offer a new approach to assessing pain.