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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Nov 19;371(1708). pii: 20160009. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0009. Epub 2016 Oct 10.

Affective touch and attachment style modulate pain: a laser-evoked potentials study.

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Department of Neuroimaging, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK
Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.
Department of Neuroimaging, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK.
Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, University College London, London, UK.


Affective touch and cutaneous pain are two sub-modalities of interoception with contrasting affective qualities (pleasantness/unpleasantness) and social meanings (care/harm), yet their direct relationship has not been investigated. In 50 women, taking into account individual attachment styles, we assessed the role of affective touch and particularly the contribution of the C tactile (CT) system in subjective and electrophysiological responses to noxious skin stimulation, namely N1 and N2-P2 laser-evoked potentials. When pleasant, slow (versus fast) velocity touch was administered to the (non-CT-containing) palm of the hand, higher attachment anxiety predicted increased subjective pain ratings, in the same direction as changes in N2 amplitude. By contrast, when pleasant touch was administered to CT-containing skin of the arm, higher attachment anxiety predicted attenuated N1 and N2 amplitudes. Higher attachment avoidance predicted opposite results. Thus, CT-based affective touch can modulate pain in early and late processing stages (N1 and N2 components), with the direction of effects depending on attachment style. Affective touch not involving the CT system seems to affect predominately the conscious perception of pain, possibly reflecting socio-cognitive factors further up the neurocognitive hierarchy. Affective touch may thus convey information about available social resources and gate pain responses depending on individual expectations of social support.This article is part of the themed issue 'Interoception beyond homeostasis: affect, cognition and mental health'.


affective touch; attachment style; interoception; laser-evoked potentials; pain

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