Subliminal perception of others’ physical pain and pleasure

Patrizia Andrea Chiesa, Marco Tullio Liuzza, Adriano Acciarino, Salvatore Maria Aglioti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies indicate that explicit and implicit processing of affectively charged stimuli may be reflected in specific behavioral markers and physiological signatures. This study investigated whether the pleasantness ratings of a neutral target were affected by subliminal perception of pleasant and painful facial expressions. Participants were presented images depicting face of non-famous models being slapped (painful condition), caressed (pleasant condition) or touched (neutral condition) by the right hand of another individual. In particular, we combined the continuous flash suppression technique with the affective misattribution procedure (AMP) to explore subliminal empathic processing. Measures of pupil reactivity along with empathy traits were also collected. Results showed that participants rated the neutral target as less or more likeable congruently with the painful or pleasant facial expression presented, respectively. Pupil dilation was associated both with the implicit attitudes (AMP score) and with empathic concern. Thus, the results provide behavioral and physiological evidence that state-related empathic reactivity can occur at an entirely subliminal level and that it is linked to autonomic responses and empathic traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2373-2382
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - May 15 2015


  • Facial expressions
  • Priming
  • Subliminal perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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