A pain metaphor

BrainBlogger has an posting by M. Meyer discussing research by the N. Eisenberger group on the connection between feeling physically hurt and socially hurt. (here)

…most languages rely on words that represent pain — hurt feelings, heartache, broken hearts — to communicate feelings of social distress. Recent findings in neuroscience suggest that sayings such as these may reflect more than poetic metaphor, and instead indicate an overlap in neural systems used to represent physical and social pain in humans.

… But how sweeping is it to say that social and physical pain share the same neuroanatomy? It is important to stress that the networks are not entirely overlapping. Physical pain researchers have already identified what they call, “the pain matrix,” or, the neuroanatomy that underpins the experience of physical pain. In addition to the dACC (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex), this matrix includes the thalamus, insula, the cerebellum, frontal cortex and primary and secondary somatosensory cortices. Nevertheless, pain researchers suggest that there are two physiological aspects of pain — the actual somatosensory experience and the perceived unpleasantness of that experience. Importantly, a great deal of research has identified the dACC to play a role in the felt unpleasantness of physical pain…Why might the human brain rely on one region, the dACC, to compute the felt unpleasantness associated with both physical injury and social distress? One explanation relies on the observation that humans, and other mammals, rely on social bonds for survival. The unpleasantness associated with physical injury acts like an alarm notifying the animal of ensuing threat to survival. Through the course of evolution, the same alarm system may have been hijacked to also notify the mammal of threat to their social bond, and hence survival.

This is another example of the way our experiences are ’embodied’ in the very architecture of our brain.

One thought on “A pain metaphor

  1. Another explanation might be based on the fact that physical pain tends to produce mental pain (for example a physical injury may be the cause of mental stress which can produce mental pain).
    So the fact that both kinds of pain usually include mental pain,, might be the reason that makes them have the same or a similar neuroanatomy in most cases.
    Interesting article Janet.

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