Study Shows a Link Between Intense Feelings of Love and Reward Areas of the Brain
Targeted Pain Treatments continued...
MRI scans recorded what was happening in their brains as they viewed the pictures while holding in their hands a computer-controlled thermal device that got increasingly hotter as the experiment progressed.
Throughout the experiment, the participants were asked to record the pain they felt from the device on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 representing “no pain” and 10 representing “the worst pain imaginable.”
Because distraction has been shown to affect pain, one phase of the experiment involved distracting the participants by asking them questions that had nothing to do with the study.
The brain imaging showed that both love and distraction reduced pain, but in different ways.
When distracted, the brain pathway affecting the sensation of pain was mostly centered in the higher, cortical part of the brain, while the impact of love was on the brain’s dopamine-related reward center.
The study appears online today in the publication PLoS One.
Aron and Mackey agree the findings show the potential for more targeted approaches to pain relief that may or may not involve drugs.
Mackey says the way we manage pain today will be considered the Dark Ages by future generations.
“Right now we use antidepressants, antiseizure drugs, and cardiac arrhythmia drugs to treat pain in patients who don’t have seizures or arrhythmias and may not even be depressed,” he says. “The hope is that in the future we will develop targeted treatments that specifically address the abnormal neural systems involved in pain.”