Mathieu Roy, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
McGill University

We currently have a good understanding of the mechanisms by which noxious stimuli are encoded in the periphery and transmitted to the brain, but little is known about how those nociceptive signals ultimately cause our subjective experience of pain: the age-old mind-body problem! However, for pain this is more than a just philosophical question since an increased understanding of the cerebral mechanisms giving rise to pain could have important implications for treatment. Why do certain people seem to suffer from excruciating pain in the absence of injury? How can certain people tolerate severe pain without taking any pain killers? While certain brain structures may be, perhaps, necessary for experiencing pain, it seems that no single structure is at the same time both necessary and sufficient for pain. Rather, pain seems to emerge from large-scale interactions between several brain regions – the hallmark of consciousness.

My lab and I are tackling these important questions using a variety of brain imaging (MRI, EGG, MEG) and psychological/psychophysiological methods (pain ratings, response times, decision-making, nociceptive flexion reflexes, skin conductance responses, facial EMG, heart rate, cortisol, etc.). Our research projects also span across a more clinically-oriented axis and a more fundamental research axis. Projects with patients with chronic pain investigate topics such as the role of the central nervous system in the effects of physical exercise training on pain, brain predictors of the transition from acute to chronic pain, as well as brain markers of chronic pain and their potential relationships with other genetic and epigenetic markers of chronic pain. Projects in cognitive neuroscience investigate phenomena such as the interactions between pain and cognition, pain and emotions, the effects of music on pain, how we learn to predict and avoid pain, and how we take decisions between and competing rewards.

The effect of music on pain is a topic that has fascinated me since my Ph.D. at UdeM with Isabelle Peretz and Pierre Rainville. We published one of the first experimental studies on the effects of pleasant and unpleasant music on pain (Roy et al., 2008), and I am now starting to renew with this cherished topic. Current and future projects will include manipulations of music-induced analgesia with pharmacological or cognitive-motivational interventions in order to understand the mechanisms mediating the effects of music on pain. We hope that an increased understanding of the mechanisms underlying music-induced analgesia will help improve its efficacy, and favor its adoption in medical settings to the benefit of patients undergoing painful medical procedures or suffering from chronic pain.