Dec 1, 1992

The consistency of facial expressions of pain: a comparison across modalities

Kenneth Prkachin


A number of facial actions have been found to be associated with pain. However, the consistency with which these actions occur during pain of different types has not been examined. This paper focuses on the consistency of facial expressions during pain induced by several modalities of nociceptive stimulation. Forty-one subjects were exposed to pain induced by electric shock, cold, pressure and ischemia. Facial actions during painful and pain-free periods were measured with the Facial Action Coding System. Four actions showed evidence of a consistent association with pain, increasing in likelihood, intensity or duration across all modalities: brow lowering, tightening and closing of the eye lids and nose wrinkling/upper lip raising. Factor analyses suggested that the facial actions reflected a general factor with a reasonably consistent pattern across modalities which could be combined into a sensitive single measure of pain expression. The findings suggest that the 4 actions identified carry the bulk of facial information about pain. They also provide evidence for the existence of a universal facial expression of pain. Implications of the findings for the measurement of pain expression are discussed.

Mentioned in this Paper

Cold Temperature
Electroconvulsive Shock
Facial Expression

About this Paper

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