Send to

Choose Destination
Trends Cogn Sci. 2013 Aug;17(8):371-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.06.002. Epub 2013 Jun 21.

Beyond metaphor: contrasting mechanisms of social and physical pain.

Author information

Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, London, UK.


Physical pain can be clearly distinguished from other states of distress. In recent years, however, the notion that social distress is experienced as physically painful has permeated the scientific literature and popular media. This conclusion is based on the overlap of brain regions that respond to nociceptive input and sociocultural distress. Here we challenge the assumption that underlies this conclusion - that physical pain can be easily inferred from a particular pattern of activated brain regions - by showing that patterns of activation commonly presumed to constitute the 'pain matrix' are largely unspecific to pain. We then examine recent analytical advances that may improve the specificity of imaging for parsing pain from a broad range of perceptually unique human experiences.


functional brain imaging; multivariate pattern analysis; nociception; pain; reverse inference; social rejection

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center