Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pain Hurts More If Person Hurting You Means It

Date:
December 20, 2008
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Psychologists at Harvard University have found that pain hurts more when we think that someone intended to cause hurt. Intentional pain also seems to have a fresh sting every time, whereas we get used to unintentional pain.

In the study, participants who believed they were getting an electrical shock from another person on purpose, rather than accidentally, rated the very same shock as more painful. Participants seemed to get used to shocks that were delivered unintentionally, but those given on purpose had a fresh sting every time.
Credit: Image courtesy of Kurt Gray / Harvard University

Researchers at Harvard University have discovered that our experience of pain depends on whether we think someone caused the pain intentionally. In their study, participants who believed they were getting an electrical shock from another person on purpose, rather than accidentally, rated the very same shock as more painful. Participants seemed to get used to shocks that were delivered unintentionally, but those given on purpose had a fresh sting every time.

The research, published in the current issue of Psychological Science, was led by Kurt Gray, a graduate student in psychology, along with Daniel Wegner, professor of psychology.

It has long been known that our own mental states can alter the experience of pain, but these findings suggest that our perceptions of the mental states of others can also influence how we feel pain.

"This study shows that even if two harmful events are physically identical, the one delivered with the intention to hurt actually hurts more," says Gray. "Compare a slap from a friend as she tries to save us from a mosquito versus the same slap from a jilted lover. The first we shrug off instantly, while the second stings our cheek for the rest of the night."

The study's authors suggest that intended and unintended harm cause different amounts of pain because they differ in meaning.

"From decoding language to understanding gestures, the mind distills meaning from our social environment," says Gray. "An intended harm has a very different meaning than an accidental harm."

The study included 48 participants who were paired up with a partner who could administer to them either an audible tone or an electric shock. In the intentional condition, participants were shocked when their partner chose the shock option. In the unintentional condition, participants were shocked when their partner chose the tone option. Thus, in this condition, they only received a shock when their partner did not intend them to receive one. The computer display ensured that participants both knew their partner's choice and that a shock would be coming, to ensure the shock was not more surprising in the unintentional condition.

Despite identical shock voltage between conditions, those in the intentional condition rated the shocks as significantly more painful. Furthermore, those in the unintentional condition habituated to the pain, rating them as decreasingly painful, while those in the intentional condition continued to feel the full sting of pain.

Gray suggests that it may be evolutionarily adaptive for this difference in meaning to be represented as different amounts of pain.

"The more something hurts, the more likely we are to take notice and stop whatever is hurting us," he says. "If it's an accidental harm, chances are it's a one-time thing, and there's no need to do anything about it. If it's an intentional harm, however, it may be the first of many, so it's good to take notice and do something about it. It makes sense that our bodies and brains might amplify our experience of pain when we know that the pain could signal threats to our survival."

These findings speak to how people experience pain and negative life events. If negative events are seen as intended, they may hurt more. This helps to explain why torture is so excruciating – not only are torture techniques themselves exceptionally painful, but it's the thought that counts—and makes torture hurt more than mere pain.

On the other hand, if negative events are seen as unintended, they may hurt less. This may explain, in part, why people in abusive relationships sometimes continue to stay in them. By rationalizing that an abusive partner did not intend harm, some victims may reduce their experience of pain, which could make them less likely to leave the relationship and escape the abuse.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Institute for Humane Studies.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kurt Gray and Daniel M. Wegner. The Sting of Intentional Pain. Psychological Science, 2008; 19 (12)

Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Pain Hurts More If Person Hurting You Means It." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081215111307.htm>.
Harvard University. (2008, December 20). Pain Hurts More If Person Hurting You Means It. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081215111307.htm
Harvard University. "Pain Hurts More If Person Hurting You Means It." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081215111307.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Newsy (July 23, 2014) An 8-year-old boy helped his younger brother, who has a rare genetic condition that's confined him to a wheelchair, finish a triathlon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands Who Can't Afford Medical Care Flock to Free US Clinic

Thousands Who Can't Afford Medical Care Flock to Free US Clinic

AFP (July 23, 2014) America may be the world’s richest country, but in terms of healthcare, the World Health Organisation ranks it 37th. Thousands turned out for a free clinic run by "Remote Area Medical" with a visit from the Governor of Virginia. Duration: 2:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The Wawona Packing Company has issued a voluntary recall on the stone fruit it distributes due to a possible Listeria outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The 83 new genetic markers could open dozens of new avenues for schizophrenia treatment research. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins