The relationship between physical pain and the relief one obtains after removal of the pain is a topic of investigation in two new studies.
Researchers studied the specific emotions an individual experiences when a person receives relief from stress, work or pain. Specifically, investigators reviewed the psychological mechanisms associated with relief that occurs after the removal of pain, also known as pain offset relief.
Experts say the findings show that healthy individuals and individuals with a history of self-harm display similar levels of relief when pain is removed. This discovery suggests that pain offset relief may be a natural mechanism that helps us to regulate our emotions.
In one study, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill graduate student Joseph Franklin and colleagues wanted to determine if the relief found after removing pain is a result of positive emotions, or is the relief from the reduction or alleviation of negative emotions.
Franklin’s team used recording electrodes to measure participants’ negative emotions (eyeblink startle response) and positive emotions (muscle activity behind the ear) in response to loud noises.
In the experiment, the loud noise was presented alone at time and then at other times it was presented 3.5, 6, or 14 seconds after receiving a low- or high-intensity shock.
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 another study, 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.
Researchers assessed participants with or without a history of self-harm 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.