What is the difference in meaning between perceived pain and observed pain?

To observe indicates that we watch carefully the way something happens or the way someone does something, especially in order to learn more about it, while perceive means to see or notice something.

Does this mean that perceived pain is that you can feel while observed pain is that you cannot?

  • That's pretty much the gist of it. "I perceived a sharp pain in my heel." "I observed her struggling to climb the stairs, her knees were so painful." You can both perceive and observe that someone is in pain, but rarely would one observe that they were experiencing crushing chest pain. Apr 8, 2015 at 6:47
  • Do note that "perceived pain" is sometimes a "loaded" term, as there are people who complain of pain they don't actually have, and there are docs who tell people that their pain is "all in your head". And various experiments have shown that psychological factors can dramatically influence the amount of pain felt, even when it's due to some obvious cause such as a broken leg.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 8, 2015 at 13:44

3 Answers 3


Perceived pain would generally mean pain that is experienced by someone or a nonhuman animal, rather than something that is seen. We can infer this because pain is a psychological phenomenon that cannot be directly seen.

When the dentist tapped my tooth, I perceived a sharp pain.

We can assume that observed pain would generally be intended to mean seeing or noticing in another person or nonhuman animal one or more signs that are taken to indicate pain.

When I tapped the patient's #12 tooth, I observed a pain response.

In most contexts, careful communicators would usually avoid the phrase observed pain, unless it was first defined.


Perceived pain in the scientific literature refers to the manner in which people feel, react to, and express their pain. There is a psycho-social component. See for example:


Observed pain, on the other hand, refers to the quantifiable evidence of pain, such as sweating, heart rate, blood pressure, and other measurable physiological phenomena.

Thus, we can think of perceived pain as a qualitative and observed pain as a quantitative approach to the study of pain.


Well, I can agree to that. The word observe is almost synonymous to the word assess or discover. However, the word perceive has two meaning it is either it feels the observable pain or cognize the presence of the pain from the others, similar to the aforementioned.

  • As Bill Clinton used to say, "I feel your pain." Apr 8, 2015 at 7:45

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