Medical students and professional healthcare providers often underestimate patients’ pain, an effect associated with decreased neural response of the anterior insula to pain information. However, the functional significance of these neural modulations is still debated. We recruited university medical students and emergency caregivers to test the role of healthcare experience on the behavioral/neural reactivity to other’s pain, emotions, and beliefs. We confirmed that healthcare experience decreased the sensitivity to others’ suffering, as measured by subjective ratings and insular response. This effect was independent from stimulus modality (pictures, texts), but specific for pain, as it did not generalize to emotions or beliefs. Critically, multivariate pattern analysis revealed that healthcare experience impacted specifically a component of the neural representation of others’ pain shared with that of first-hand nociception. This suggests a reduced likelihood of appraising others’ sufferance as one’s own, and might offer a mechanistic explanation for pain underestimation in clinical settings.
Download Supplementary Information.