The Neural Bases of Social Pain: Evidence for Shared Representations With Physical Pain : Psychosomatic Medicine

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The Neural Bases of Social Pain

Evidence for Shared Representations With Physical Pain

Eisenberger, Naomi I. PhD

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Psychosomatic Medicine 74(2):p 126-135, February/March 2012. | DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182464dd1


Experiences of social rejection or loss have been described as some of the most “painful” experiences that we, as humans, face and perhaps for good reason. Because of our prolonged period of immaturity, the social attachment system may have co-opted the pain system, borrowing the pain signal to prevent the detrimental consequences of social separation. This review summarizes a program of research that has explored the idea that experiences of physical pain and social pain rely on shared neural substrates. First, evidence showing that social pain activates pain-related neural regions is reviewed. Then, studies exploring some of the expected consequences of such a physical pain–social pain overlap are summarized. These studies demonstrate that a) individuals who are more sensitive to one kind of pain are also more sensitive to the other and b) factors that increase or decrease one kind of pain alter the other in a similar manner. Finally, what these shared neural substrates mean for our understanding of socially painful experience is discussed.

Copyright © 2012 by American Psychosomatic Society

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