The pain of social exclusion

February 27, 2014, International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

We would like to do without pain and yet without it we wouldn't be able to survive. Pain signals dangerous stimuli (internal or external) and guides our behaviour. Its ultimate goal is to prioritize escape, recovery and healing. That's why we feel it and why we're also good at detecting it in others. Pain in fact protects not only the individual but also his social bonds. The brain contains circuits related to the more physical aspects of pain and others related to affective aspects. As observed in a study just published by Giorgia Silani, Giovanni Novembre and Marco Zanon of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, social pain activates some brain circuits of physical pain whether we feel it personally or when we experience it vicariously as an empathic response to other people's pain.

The study by Silani and colleagues is innovative since it adopted a more realistic experimental procedure than used in the past and compared behaviours and the results of functional magnetic resonance imaging in the same subjects, during tests involving both physical and social . "Classic experiments used a stylized procedure in which social exclusion situations were simulated by cartoons. We suspected that this simplification was excessive and likely to lead to systematic biases in data collection, so we used real people in videos".

The subjects took part in the experimental sessions simulating a ball tossing game, where one of the players was deliberately excluded by the others (condition of social pain). The player could be the subject herself or her assigned confederate. In another series of experiments the subject or her confederate were administered a mildly painful stimulus (condition of physical pain). When the subject was not personally the target of the stimulus, she could witness the entirety of her confederate's experience.

"Our data have shown that in conditions of there is activation of an area traditionally associated with the sensory processing of , the posterior insular cortex", explains Silani. "This occurred both when the pain was experienced in first person and when the subject experienced it vicariously".

"Our findings lend support to the theoretical model of empathy that explains involvement in other people's emotions by the fact that our representation is based on the representation of our own emotional experience in similar conditions" concludes Silani.

Explore further: Broken hearts really hurt

Related Stories

Broken hearts really hurt

February 22, 2012
"Broken-hearted" isn't just a metaphor -- social pain and physical pain have a lot in common, according to Naomi Eisenberger of the University of Califiornia-Los Angeles, the author of a new paper published in Current Directions ...

Pain can be contagious

May 8, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—The pain sensations of others can be felt by some people, just by witnessing their agony, according to new research.

Could restless sleep cause widespread pain in older folks?

February 13, 2014
Researchers in the U.K. report that non-restorative sleep is the strongest, independent predictor of widespread pain onset among adults over the age of 50. According to the study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology (formerly ...

We may make mistakes interpreting the emotions of others, but our brain can corrects us

October 10, 2013
When we are sad the world seemingly cries with us. On the contrary, when we are happy everything shines and all around people's faces seem to rejoyce with us. These projection mechanisms of one's emotions onto others are ...

Pleasure and pain brain signals disrupted in fibromyalgia patients

November 5, 2013
New research indicates that a disruption of brain signals for reward and punishment contributes to increased pain sensitivity, known as hyperalgesia, in fibromyalgia patients. Results published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, ...

Brain stimulation may buffer feelings of social pain

December 4, 2012
Accumulating evidence suggests that certain brain areas involved in processing physical pain may also underlie feelings of social pain. But can altering brain activity in these areas actually change how people experience ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Neuroscientists suggest a model for how we gain volitional control of what we hold in our minds

January 16, 2018
Working memory is a sort of "mental sketchpad" that allows you to accomplish everyday tasks such as calling in your hungry family's takeout order and finding the bathroom you were just told "will be the third door on the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.