Gender differences in attention to pain body postures in a social context: a novel use of the bodies in the crowd task

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Pain signals the presence of potential harm, captures attention, and can inhibit performance on concurrent tasks. What is less well known, however, is whether such attentional capture also occurs in a wider social context, such as when observing people in pain. To explore this possibility, we adopted a novel social-cue detection methodology: the bodies-in-the-crowd task. Two experiments are reported that consider whether nonverbal cues of pain, happiness, and anger as expressed through body postures would capture and hold attention. Both experiments recruited 40 (20 male and 20 female) pain-free individuals. Overall, results show that pain postures do not capture attention any more than happiness or anger postures, but disengagement from pain postures was significantly slower across both studies. Gender differences were also found, and were more likely to be found when crowds comprised both men and women. Male pain postures were more likely to capture attention. However, female observers had faster target detection speed, and were quicker to disengage from distractors. They also showed slower disengagement from female expressions overall. Male observers showed no variation based on target or distractor gender. Implications and potential directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1776-1786
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2020

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