Pain is often poorly managed, highlighting the need to better understand and treat patients’ pain. Research suggests that pain is assessed and treated differently depending on patient sex, race, and/or age. Perspective-taking, whereby one envisions the perspective of another, has been found to reduce racial disparities in pain management. This study used virtual human (VH) technology to examine whether a perspective-taking intervention impacts pain management decisions.
Ninety-six participants were randomized to an online treatment or control group and viewed 16 video clips of VHs with standardized levels of pain. Participants provided ratings on the VHs’ pain intensity and their willingness to administer opioids to them. The intervention group received a brief perspective-taking intervention that consisted of having participants imagine how the patient’s suffering could affect his/her life, whereas the control group was asked to wait for the next VH videos to load. A LENS model analysis was used to investigate both group level (nomothetic) and individual level (idiographic) decision policies. A LENS model of analysis is typically used as an analog method for capturing how groups of people and individuals use information in their environment to form judgments.
Nomothetic results found that participants rated pain higher and were more likely to prescribe opioids to VHs postintervention, irrespective of group. Idiographic results, however, found that the use of cues to make pain management decisions was mitigated by the perspective-taking group. The participants in the perspective-taking group were more likely to think about pain and the patients’ perspective during the intervention, while control participants were more likely to reflect on the VHs’ sex, race, or age.
A brief intervention may alter participants’ pain management decisions. These results indicate that a brief intervention might be an initial step toward aligning observers’ pain management ratings with those of the patient. Future research is needed to replicate findings in a health care population.