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Can neuroimaging prove pain and suffering?: The influence of pain assessment techniques on legal judgments of physical versus emotional pain.
Law and Human Behavior  (IF3.795),  Pub Date : 2021-10-01, DOI: 10.1037/lhb0000460
Hannah J Phalen,Jessica M Salerno,N J Schweitzer

OBJECTIVES It is difficult to "prove" pain and suffering-particularly emotional suffering. Neuroimaging technology might bolster pain claims in civil cases by making pain seem less subjective. We examined how neuroimaging of physical and emotional pain influences judgments of pain and suffering across nonlegal and legal contexts. HYPOTHESES We hypothesized that participants would rate pain assessed using neuroimaging as more severe and award higher compensation than pain assessed using self-report measures. We also hypothesized that participants would rate physical (vs. emotional) pain as more severe, except when the pain claim was bolstered by a neuroimaging assessment. METHOD In two experiments, we tested how pain assessment techniques influence perceptions of pain severity and monetary compensation differently for physical or emotional pain. Using a within-subjects design, participants (Experiment 1, N = 411, 59% male, 80% White) read 6 vignettes that described a person's chronic physical or emotional pain, evaluated using a clinical assessment, neuropsychological assessment, or neuroimaging assessment. We conceptually replicated Experiment 1 in a legal context (Experiment 2, N = 353, 42% male; 80% White) and tested whether the neuroimaging effect was due to knowing that the pain was assessed by neuroimaging or also required the inclusion of a neuroimage. RESULTS When pain was assessed using neuroimaging (vs. non-neuroimaging assessments), participants rated the pain as more severe and gave larger monetary awards. When a person alleged physical (vs. emotional) pain, participants rated the pain as more severe and gave larger monetary awards. We conceptually replicated these findings in Experiment 2 and found that the neuroimaging effect was due to hearing about neuroimaging assessment and did not necessitate the inclusion of a neuroimage. CONCLUSION Neuroimaging technology could be extremely useful for plaintiffs trying to overcome the difficult hurdle of proving their pain. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).