Watching someone suffer pain has a lasting effect on the brain

Posted on August 20, 2016

Photo: flickr

New research suggests that witnessing extreme pain – such as the injury or death of a comrade on the battlefield – has a lasting effect on how the brain processes potentially painful situations. The research team chiefly from Bar-Ilan University and headed up by Moranne Eidelman-Rothman, investigated the brain using magnetoencephalography (MEG). MEG localises which parts of the brain are more active during a particular mental activity, but it offers more fine-grained information about when this activity is occurring. This sensitivity helped the researchers detect subtle anomalies in how pain is perceived.

The research team found that after presenting a series of painful stimuli, a neural activation effect in the pain centers of the brain was absent from the battle veterans. It’s not that their response to the painful stimuli was subdued compared with the control participants, but that their response to the non-painful stimuli was enhanced, as if they were evaluating the potential for the situation to become suddenly painful – that the axe close to the foot was an injury waiting to happen. This was despite the fact that subjectively the two groups rated the photo types no differently, in terms of their unpleasantness.

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Category(s):Pain management

Source material from The British Psychological Society

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