Can Neuroimaging Prove Pain and Suffering? The Influence of Pain Assessment Techniques on Legal Judgments of Physical Versus Emotional Pain

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Abstract

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 painand suffering across nonlegal and legal contexts. Hypotheses: We hypothesized that participantswould rate pain assessed using neuroimaging as more severe and award higher compensation thanpain 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 neuroimagingassessment. 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 awithin-subjects design, participants (Experiment 1, N = 411, 59% male, 80% White) read 6 vignettesthat described a person’s chronic physical or emotional pain, evaluated using a clinical assessment,neuropsychological assessment, or neuroimaging assessment. We conceptually replicated Experiment1 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 theinclusion 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 aperson alleged physical (vs. emotional) pain, participants rated the pain as more severe and gave largermonetary 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 inclusionof a neuroimage. Conclusion: Neuroimaging technology could be extremely useful for plaintiffs tryingto overcome the difficult hurdle of proving their pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-412
Number of pages20
JournalLaw and human behavior
Volume45
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Civil decisionmaking
  • Juror decision-making
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neuroscience
  • Pain and suffering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law

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