Monday, March 6, 2017

Pain in the Brain

Poetry, plays, and music have often reflected metaphorically on the pain of loss, rejection, or exclusion. It appears this is more than metaphor, however. Emotional pain due to the loss of a loved one, the distress of separation experienced by young children (or young animals), or rejection by one’s social group, is often accompanied by a sense of physical pain. A new brain study indicates this may reflect real changes in the mammalian or limbic areas of the human brain. The pain from broken leg, the anguish of a broken heart, and the distress caused by social rejection or exclusion—share much of same circuitry. All activate the same brain regions. According to Tor Wager, associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Boulder, “Of all the things I’ve observed in the brain, nothing is more similar to physical pain than social pain.” As far as the brain goes, social pain literally hurts. 

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