Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names (words) will never hurt me

It's a classic phrase that we've all been told at one point or another in our lives. I wish it were true, but in reality, it is not. I'm sure a lot of us can attest to the falseness of this phrase, proverb, idiom, adage, maxim, whatever you want to call it.

I tried looking up the origin of it but only came across this posting on the web.

So are there differences in physical and social pain? How do the intensity of pain rank for each? Which one is easier to recall and relive?

Researchers recently looked at all these questions in a set of four experiments. In experiment 1, participants were asked to relive both a physical (injury) and social (betrayal) pain experience and to rank their level of pain when the event occurred. In experiment 2, participants were asked to relive either a physical (injury) or a social (betrayal) pain experience and also rank their pain level at the time of the event. Then both groups wrote a detailed account of their experiences and stated what their pain level was at that moment.

The results of these studies showed that it was easy to recount both physical and social pain experiences and that the pain level was similar for either experience at the time the event occurred. However, participants who relived a social pain experience had more pain intensity after recalling the event than those who recalled a physical pain experience.

In experiments 3 and 4, similar protocol was followed as the previous other two studies, but with series of easy and difficult cognitive tasks. The results indicated that participants who had to relive a social pain experience had a higher level of pain intensity and performed worse on the difficult cognitive tasks than those who relived a physical pain experience.

Researchers think one possible explanation for these findings has to do with the evolution of the cerebral cortex in the brain. The authors write, "
The evolution of the cerebral cortex certainly improved the ability of human beings to create and adapt; to function in and with groups, communities, and culture; and to respond to pain associated with social interactions,” the authors wrote. “However, the cerebral cortex may also have had an unintended effect of allowing humans to relive, re-experience, and suffer from social pain."

Full text study: When Hurt Will Not Heal
Exploring the Capacity to Relive Social and Physical Pain


I actually don't find this research that surprising, but I think it is good validation at the importance of social pain versus physical pain experiences. Sometimes, I think we forget that just because we can't see a physical scar or wound, that the pain doesn't exist or affect us. In my opinion, it's the invisible scars that hurt worse. Those are the ones that are deeply buried and don't fade away so easily; thus, the reason why we can relive them easier and have such high intensity towards them.

Everyone has a different school of thought as to whether it is better to drudge up these experiences or not. For some, reliving and processing that pain helps them to heal and move ahead. For others, it's about acknowledging that pain but leaving it there (in the past) and moving forward. Each individual has to decide what works best for her/him to heal. In the end, it's all about making oneself whole again.

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