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Pain Research and Management
Volume 14, Issue 1, Pages 53-58

Assessing Pain by Facial Expression: Facial Expression as Nexus

Kenneth M Prkachin

University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada

Copyright © 2009 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The experience of pain is often represented by changes in facial expression. Evidence of pain that is available from facial expression has been the subject of considerable scientific investigation. The present paper reviews the history of pain assessment via facial expression in the context of a model of pain expression as a nexus connecting internal experience with social influence. Evidence about the structure of facial expressions of pain across the lifespan is reviewed. Applications of facial assessment in the study of adult and pediatric pain are also reviewed, focusing on how such techniques facilitate the discovery and articulation of novel phenomena. Emerging applications of facial assessment in clinical settings are also described. Alternative techniques that have the potential to overcome barriers to the application of facial assessment arising out of its resource-intensiveness are described and evaluated, including recent work on computer-based automatic assessment.