A new study suggests that “social” suffering can hurt us in a physical way. The distress caused by, for example, experiencing an injustice, or losing a friend activates brain circuits related to physical pain, according to researchers from The International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA).

The study also found that physical pain can be felt when we experience social pain second hand, as an empathic response when we see someone else feeling social discomfort.

Giorgia Silani, lead researcher explained that the study is innovative since it adopted a more realistic experimental procedure than has been used in the past. It compared behaviors and the results of functional magnetic resonance imaging in the same subjects during tests involving physical and social pain.

“Our data has shown that in conditions of social pain there is activation of an area traditionally assoicated with the sensory processing of physical pain, the posterior insular cortex. This occurred when the pain was experienced in first person and when the subject experienced it vicariously,” said Silani. He adds, “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 empathic experience in similar conditions”……    Science Daily     2/27/14

 

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