Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Social Pain

Pain is often immediately associated with physical pain, but can refer to anything distressing. Often when a person feels excluded or experiences the loss of a relationship this emotionally hurts a person. I've read in articles that it has been shown when a person is under distress, be it anxious or depressed, he or she may not think as clearly. Grades can be affected and memory is often impaired. This can also increase the level to which a person is distressed. It's a cyclic problem in which a person may be trying to make positive changes to his or her life to aid emotional healing, but has a barrier in that one's brain is not acting as efficiently as it might otherwise. Some studies have even shown physical distress on the heart itself in times of what one might call heartache.
In our text (what was referred to as) social pain was stated to activate some of the same receptors in the brain as physical pain. Participants in a study had their brain activity measured in an fMRI scanner as they played a game that they believed they were playing with other people. The game was programmed to exclude them numerous times and the scanner monitored their brain activity. The participants reported sensitivity to the feeling of being socially rejected, and their brains showed activity in the same areas of the brain when physical pain was experienced. After learning of this I looked up further information on the subject online. I viewed a video in which experimenters did a similar study with the same game. In this case I found it interesting to find that they studied two females and a male. The females reported feeling sensitive to the exclusion of the other participants (unbeknownst to them that it was a computer program) while the male reported that he was not significantly upset by this. He stated that this was not particularly bothersome to him, such as the loss of a job might be. Researchers stated that people who tend to be more neurotic and anxious display more sensitivity to situations of rejection, exclusion, and distress; while extroverts and less anxious people show less sensitivity to what others may perceive as distressful or social pain. The amount of activity in a person's brain in various situations may be correlated with his or her overall personality. A usually laid back person may not show increased activity in his or her ACC under stressful situations, nor display as much sensitivity to the degree that another more sensitive or empathetic person might.
The part of the brain that is activated by pain is the ACC, or the anterior cingulate cortex. In the cases of both physical and emotional pain, this region of the brain showed increased activation as measured by the fMRI (functional magnetic reasonance imaging) scan. Researchers even went on to examine that empathetic people show activation in this region when they are distressed at the thought of another's pain. Studies were done on romantically involved couples and when the female watched her male counterpart receive shocks her brain showed higher activation in her ACC, similar to the increased activity experienced when she received shocks herself.
I found it interesting to learn that emotional distress can, in fact, can cause physical distress on a person's body. Not only can a heartbreak get your stomach in knots and possibly cause what feels literally to be heartache, but our brains can respond to social loss as well. I wonder now, can heartache also give you a headache?
Social Pain and Physical Pain


  1. I really liked that you made this post because I have a high tolerance for pain. In 2002, I had shoulder surgery and was able to stop taking my pain killers after one only one week and during my physical rehabilitation the only way my body knew I was in pain was for my blood pressure to drop and would pass out.

  2. I was really interested reading about social pain in the textbook and enjoyed learning more about it through your post. This was a good topic to talk about because every human being in this world experiences social pain in one way or another. I strongly believe that personality type is most definitely correlated with the amount of activity in a person's brain in various situations. I also know from my own personal experiences that emotional distress caused by something such as a heartbreak can take over your entire body and cause physical distress as well.

  3. This is a very interesting topic. I also looked in to this area, and my final project talked about pain. The experiment I liked on this was a virtual reality test (not sure if it was in text or online somewhere) but a person was having a catch with two others in virtual reality, and their brain was scanned during this process. The two others began to exclude them from the catch, and there was activity during this time of exclusion, which I thought was interesting.