On a daily basis, we place our lives in the hands of strangers. From dentists to pilots, we make inferences about their competence to perform their jobs and consequently to keep us from harm. Here we explore whether the perceived competence of others can alter one's anticipation of pain. In two studies, participants (Receivers) believed their chances of experiencing an aversive stimulus were directly dependent on the performance of another person (Players). We predicted that perceiving the Players as highly competent would reduce Receivers' anxiety when anticipating the possibility of an electric shock. Results confirmed that high competence ratings consistently corresponded with lower reported anxiety, and complementary fMRI data showed that increased competence perception was further expressed as decreased activity in the bilateral posterior insula, a region localized to actual pain stimulation. These studies suggest that inferences of competence act as predictors of protection and reduce the expectation of negative outcomes.

You do not currently have access to this content.