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The Psychology Behind Self Harm Revealed

by Enozia Vakil on March 24, 2013 at 3:28 PM
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 The Psychology Behind Self Harm Revealed

Also known as pain offset relief, the psychological mechanism associated with relief after removal of pain has been now studied by the Association for Psychological Science.

It showed that healthy individuals and individuals with a history of self-harm display similar levels of relief when pain is removed, which suggests that pain offset relief may be a natural mechanism that helps us to regulate our emotions.

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Research showed that feeling pain leads to negative emotions, but less is known about the relief that occurs when pain is removed. Is pain offset associated with positive emotions, or simply the alleviation of negative emotions?

Joseph Franklin and colleagues used recording electrodes to measure participants' negative emotions (eyeblink startle response) and positive emotions (muscle activity behind the ear) in response to loud noises; sometimes the loud noise was presented alone and other times it was presented 3.5, 6, or 14 seconds after receiving a low- or high-intensity shock.
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Participants showed increased positive emotions and decreased negative emotions after pain offset. The greatest increases in positive emotion tended to occur soon after high-intensity shocks, whereas the greatest decreases in negative emotions tended to occur soon after low-intensity shocks.

These findings shed light on the emotional nature of pain offset relief, and could provide insight into why some people seek relief through self-injurious behavior.

In this study, the researchers examined whether the emotional relief that comes with physical pain removal might be a potential mechanism that could help to explain why some people engage in self-harm behaviors.

Participants with or without a history of self-harm were assessed for emotion dysregulation and reactivity, self-injurious behavior, and for psychiatric disorders.

Using a similar recording electrode procedure as in the first study, Franklin and colleagues were able to measure positive and negative emotions in response to loud noises, either alone or after receiving a painful shock.

Surprisingly, healthy individuals displayed pain offset relief levels that were comparable to those of individuals with a history of self-harm, and there was no correlation between pain offset relief and self-harm frequency.

These results do not support the hypothesis that heightened pain offset relief is a risk factor for future self-injury.

Instead, Franklin and colleagues speculate that the biggest risk factors for nonsuicidal self-injury may concern how some people overcome the instinctive barriers that keep most people from inflicting self-harm.

The study appeared in Clinical Psychological Science.

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