Can Love Reduce Pain?

by Pamela Katz Ressler, RN, BSN, HN-BC, MS-PREP graduate student and PREP-AIRED blog moderator and administrator, Tufts University School of Medicine

In honor of Valentine’s Day and in celebration of “heart month”, February, today’s blog entry asks the question…can viewing a photograph of a romantic partner reduce pain?  This was the research question posed by investigators from Stanford University in a study entitled: Viewing Pictures of a Romantic Partner Reduces Experimental Pain published in PLoS  ONE.  Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the investigators examined fifteen individuals in the early stages of a romantic relationship (first nine months).  Participants completed three tasks under periods of moderate and high thermal pain: 1) viewing pictures of their romantic partner, 2) viewing pictures of an equally attractive and familiar acquaintance, and 3) a word-association distraction task previously demonstrated to reduce pain. Viewing pictures of a romantic partner and the distraction task both decreased the amount of self-reported pain experienced by the study participants.  However greater pain relief was reported while viewing pictures of a romantic partner and this was the only study condition associated with increased activity in several reward-processing regions of the brain.  According to the research team lead by Dr. Jarred Younger,  “The results suggest that the activation of neural reward systems via non-pharmacologic means can reduce the experience of pain”.   In the clinical setting, creating an environment that encouraging patients to have pictures of loved ones within view may help to achieve more effective pain management.  

What are your thoughts on this study?

1 comment February 14th, 2011

Love Induced Pain Relief

By Pamela Katz Ressler, RN, BSN, HN-BC, MS-PREP graduate student and PREP-AIREDLove Induced Pain Relief blog moderator

Thank you to Tufts University School of Medicine, MS-PREP alumna Nancy Mitchell for forwarding this intriguing study from Stanford University School of Medicine on love induced pain relief.  In their study, Dr. Sean Mackey and colleagues suggest that intense, passionate feelings of love can alter the perception of pain. 

“When people are in this passionate, all-consuming phase of love, there are significant alterations in their mood that are impacting their experience of pain,” said Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Pain Management, associate professor of anesthesia and senior author of the study. “We’re beginning to tease apart some of these reward systems in the brain and how they influence pain. These are very deep, old systems in our brain that involve dopamine — a primary neurotransmitter that influences mood, reward and motivation.”

While love is not the only answer to relieving pain, it appears that similar areas of the brain are activated by intense love and also by pain relieving pharmaceuticals.  Further study of the neural reward pathways  that are triggered by intense feelings of passion could lead to a more complete undertanding of the neural mechanisms involved in the pain experience.

Click here to read the complete study

Add comment November 9th, 2010


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