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May, Elisabeth S.; Tiemann, Laura; Schmidt, Paul; Nickel, Moritz M.; Wiedemann, Nina; Dresel, Christian; Sorg, Christian; Ploner, Markus (2017): Behavioral responses to noxious stimuli shape the perception of pain. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 7, 44083
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Abstract

Pain serves vital protective functions. To fulfill these functions, a noxious stimulus might induce a percept which, in turn, induces a behavioral response. Here, we investigated an alternative view in which behavioral responses do not exclusively depend on but themselves shape perception. We tested this hypothesis in an experiment in which healthy human subjects performed a reaction time task and provided perceptual ratings of noxious and tactile stimuli. A multi-level moderated mediation analysis revealed that behavioral responses are significantly involved in the translation of a stimulus into perception. This involvement was significantly stronger for noxious than for tactile stimuli. These findings show that the influence of behavioral responses on perception is particularly strong for pain which likely reflects the utmost relevance of behavioral responses to protect the body. These observations parallel recent concepts of emotions and entail implications for the understanding and treatment of pain.