Physical pain might fade away with time but a socially painful experience can actually pack a harder punch that people think, suggests a new study. According to a new study from the University of New South Wales, pain of physical events may fade, while the pain of social occurrences can be re-instantiated through memory retrievals.
For the study, the researchers set up four experiments. In the first two experiments, participants reported the amount of pain they felt while trying to relive a physically or a socially painful experience.
And in the second experiment, after writing detailed accounts of each experience, the participants reported how they felt.
The last two experiments were similar to the first two, except participants were asked to work on some cognitive tasks with different levels of difficulty after reliving a socially or physically painful event.
The psychologists found that participants who had to recall a socially painful experience reported stronger feelings of pain and relived the experience more intensely than those who had to recall a physically painful event.
Moreover, those who only had to recall a physically painful event performed better on the difficult mental tasks in comparison to those who had to relive a socially painful event.
The researchers believe that it could be due to evolution of the human brain, specifically in an area called the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for complex thinking, perception and language processing.
"The evolution of the cerebral cortex certainly improved the ability of human beings to create and adapt; to function in and with groups, communities, and culture; and to respond to pain associated with social interactions," the authors wrote.
"However, the cerebral cortex may also have had an unintended effect of allowing humans to relive, re-experience, and suffer from social pain."
The research team included psychologists Zhansheng Chen and Kipling D. Williams of Purdue University, Julie Fitness of Macquarie University, and Nicola C. Newton of the University of New South Wales.