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.
From the University of California, Los Angeles, California.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Naomi I. Eisenberger, PhD, Department of Psychology, 1285 Franz Hall, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The research reviewed here was supported by a NARSAD Young Investigator Award, a Dana Foundation Grant in Brain and Immunoimaging, a UCLA Faculty Senate Grant, a UCLA Career Development Award, a UCLA Integrative Mood Disorder Study Center Award, and National Institute of Mental Healthgrants (R21MH66709-01, R21MH071521-01, and R01MH56880). This article was presented as a talk at the 2011 American Psychosomatic Society meeting, where Dr. Eisenberger was presented with the 2011 Herbert Weiner Early Career Award.
Received for publication June 30, 2011; revision received October 24, 2011.