Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Falling in Love Can Reduce Physical Pain

Well, dang, that's pretty cool . . . . From Big Questions Online.

Love Is Pain Relief

Love Is Pain Relief
By intensely activating reward systems in the brain.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

For some time now, psychologist Arthur Aron has known that what scientists see when they look at intense, passionate love in the brain is similar to what they see in the brain when people get other kinds of rewards. But in a new experiment, he teamed up with a group of researchers, including Dr. Sean Mackey, a professor of anesthesia at the Stanford School of Medicine, to see if this kind of love could also change people's experience of pain.

The researchers put a group of students in the early stages of love in an fMRI machine and scanned their brains while they experienced moderate and high pain. They wanted to see what would happen when the students experienced pain at the same time they were looking at photos of either the person they were in love with or an equally attractive acquaintance. The researchers also scanned the students' brains as they performed a distracting word task while experiencing pain. What they found was that both intense love and the distraction task had analgesic effects; they reduced the pain—equally, and much more than looking at the photo of an acquaintance did. But what's really interesting, the researchers note, is that:

Only the partner task was associated with activation of reward systems. Greater analgesia while viewing pictures of a romantic partner was associated with increased activity in several reward-processing regions, including the caudate head, nucleus accumbens, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—regions not associated with distraction-induced analgesia. The results suggest that the activation of neural reward systems via non-pharmacologic means can reduce the experience of pain.

So, it appears that the same brain pathways that are activated when we feel intense romantic love are also activated when we take drugs to reduce pain, says Aron. And as Mackey points out, "these are very deep, old systems in our brain that involve dopamine—a primary neurotransmitter that influences mood, reward, and motivation."

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