Pain may act as a sort of "social glue" and foster cohesion and solidarity within groups, says a new study.
According to researchers, the findings show that pain is a particularly powerful ingredient in producing bonding and cooperation between those who share painful experiences, which explains why camaraderie may develop between soldiers or others who share difficult and painful experiences.
In the first experiment, the researchers randomly assigned 54 students to perform either a painful task or a similar, relatively painless, task in small groups. The students submerged their hand in a bucket of water and were tasked with locating metal balls in the water and placing them into a small underwater container. For some, the water was painfully cold, while for others the water was room temperature.
A second task required the students to either perform an upright wall squat (which is typically painful) or to balance on one leg, with the option of switching legs and using balance aids to avoid fatigue.
The students then rated statements designed to measure how they felt about their group (e.g., "I feel part of this group of participants," "I feel a sense of loyalty to the other participants"), while those who performed the painful tasks and those who performed the painless tasks showed no difference in positive or negative emotion.
They did, however, show significant differences in group bonding: Students who performed the painful tasks reported a greater degree of bonding than did those who performed the pain-free versions, even after the researchers accounted for participant age, gender, and the size of the group and it was found that shared pain not only increases a sense of solidarity, it can also boost actual group cooperation.
The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.