Recent Studies Prove That Words Can Hurt!

February 11, 2014

Our parents and teachers taught us that name-calling and other forms of verbal teasing can’t really hurt us. I can’t possibly give an accurate count of the number of times I was told that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

That old adage is now being called into question by new research from UCLA. Dr. Naomi Eisenberger has found that social rejection and physical pain are intrinsically linked in the brain, so much so that a lack of the former can impact the latter.

How is it that social rejection could affect physical pain? In an experiment published in the 2006 issue of the journal Pain, Eisenberger used 75 subjects to explore perceptions of physical pain in the context of social situations. First, the researchers identified each person’s unique pain threshold by transmitting varying levels of heat to the forearm. The participants graded pain levels until they reached “very unpleasant.” This provided a baseline for the participants’ “normal” pain thresholds under normal conditions.

The test subjects then played a game of ball-tossing with 3 characters on a computer. One character represented the participant, who was told by the researchers that the other two characters were played by real people. (Actually, the other characters were computer-controlled.) The participant was either a) socially included by having the ball tossed to the participant, or excluded, in which case the ball was never tossed to the participant. In the final 30 seconds of the game, a new heat stimulus was applied and subjects again rated the level of pain they felt.

The excluded group participants reported 67% more social distress on average, which was not particularly surprising. What was more of a surprise was that the same people who reported great social distress from the game also reported higher pain ratings at the end of the game—showing a link between social and physical pain.

The findings by Dr. Eisenberger were supported by other studies which demonstrate a connection between emotional and physical pain. Many functional MRI (fMRI) studies, which measure functional brain activity through visualization of blood flow, have confirmed that emotional and physical pain both activate the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Still other studies note that people who suffer from physical conditions such as chronic pain are more likely to have emotional anxiety and feel social rejection more deeply.

People who have suffered traumatic injuries often suffer obvious physical disabilities, pain and disfigurement. The suffering they experience is less obvious to others, but is no less real to the individuals who’ve been injured and their families.Those individuals have been thrown into a new way of living. Their home, work and recreational lives may have been turned upside down, and they frequently reach a point where they feel that they have been left alone to deal with thier very personal pain and fears. They can feel isolated and rejected by those who had been around them when they were well, but seem to have left their lives once injury has kept them from being a full participant in society’s living. And now, we know, and have scientific proof, of the sad fact that isolation, the stigma of rejection and emotional distress we knew was there can actually worsen the physical pain suffered by the injured person. An awful cycling of physical and emotional pain that can be crippling.

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious and disabling injury because of someone else’s fault, you may be able to take actions to help find your way through the difficult times ahead. At Lane Brown, LLC, our attorneys have spent decades helping people cope with the devastating impact that serious injuries can have. Please contact the attorneys of Lane Brown, LLC, or call us at 312-332-1400 to speak with us about your options. We can help. To learn more about Lane Brown, please visit our website at

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Labels: disabling injury pain trauma

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