Format

Send to

Choose Destination
Psychosom Med. 2018 Nov/Dec;80(9):814-825. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000609.

Transforming Pain With Prosocial Meaning: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study.

Author information

1
From the Department of Anesthesiology (López-Solà), Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio; and Institute of Cognitive Science (López-Solà, Koban, Wager), Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

Contextual factors can transform how we experience pain, particularly if pain is associated with other positive outcomes. Here, we test a novel meaning-based intervention. Participants were given the opportunity to choose to receive pain on behalf of their romantic partners, situating pain experience in a positive, prosocial meaning context. We predicted that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), a key structure for pain regulation and generation of affective meaning, would mediate the transformation of pain experience by this prosocial interpersonal context.

METHODS:

We studied fMRI activity and behavioral responses in 29 heterosexual female participants during (1) a baseline pain challenge and (2) a task in which participants decided to accept a self-selected number of additional pain trials to reduce pain in their male romantic partners ("accept-partner-pain" condition).

RESULTS:

Enduring extra pain for the benefit of the romantic partner reduced pain-related unpleasantness (t = -2.54, p = .016) but not intensity, and increased positive thoughts (t = 3.60, p = .001) and pleasant feelings (t = 5.39, p < .0005). Greater willingness to accept the pain of one's partner predicted greater unpleasantness reductions (t = 3.94, p = .001) and increases in positive thoughts (r = .457, p = .013). The vmPFC showed significant increases (q < .05 FDR-corrected) in activation during accept-partner-pain, especially for women with greater willingness to relieve their partner's pain (t = 2.63, p = .014). Reductions in brain regions processing pain and aversive emotion significantly mediated reductions in pain unpleasantness (q < .05 FDR-corrected).

CONCLUSIONS:

The vmPFC has a key role in transforming the meaning of pain, which is associated with a cascade of positive psychological and brain effects, including changes in affective meaning, value, and pain-specific neural circuits.

PMID:
29846310
PMCID:
PMC6218300
[Available on 2019-11-01]
DOI:
10.1097/PSY.0000000000000609

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wolters Kluwer
Loading ...
Support Center