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We all know that pain can hurt. However, a new study says that pain hurts more if the person giving you the pain does it on purpose.
Researchers at Harvard University recently discovered that the level of pain a person feels depends on whether or not they think the pain was caused intentionally.
“This study shows that even if two harmful events are physically identical, the one delivered with the intention to hurt actually hurts more,” says Kurt Gray, lead author of the study. “Compare a slap from a friend as she tries to save us from a mosquito versus the same slap from a jilted lover. The first we shrug off instantly, while the second stings our cheek for the rest of the night.”
The study looked at 48 participants that were paired up with a partner that gave them either an audible tone or an electric shock. When done intentionally, the participants were shocked when their partner picked the shock switch. In the unintentional group, participants were shocked when their partner picked the tone switch. This meant that they were only shocked when their partner didn’t mean for them to be. This was tracked through a computer display where the participant was able to see which option their partner chose.
Results showed that intentional shocks were rated more painful and long lingering.
“The more something hurts, the more likely we are to take notice and stop whatever is hurting us,” Gray said. “If it's an accidental harm, chances are it's a one-time thing, and there's no need to do anything about it. If it's an intentional harm, however, it may be the first of many, so it's good to take notice and do something about it. It makes sense that our bodies and brains might amplify our experience of pain when we know that the pain could signal threats to our survival.”
This study shows how pain is experienced in life events as well. By thinking of a situation as negative and intentional, pain may be more prevalent in one’s mind. It could also explain why many people stay in abusive relationships. Some people may think their partner does not mean to hurt them, which may make the physical aspect of the pain less than it would normally be, thereby making it harder to leave the abusive relationship.
This research is published in the current issue of Psychological Science.