Viewing pictures of a romantic partner reduces experimental pain: Involvement of neural reward systems

Academic Article

Abstract

  • The early stages of a new romantic relationship are characterized by intense feelings of euphoria, well-being, and preoccupation with the romantic partner. Neuroimaging research has linked those feelings to activation of reward systems in the human brain. The results of those studies may be relevant to pain management in humans, as basic animal research has shown that pharmacologic activation of reward systems can substantially reduce pain. Indeed, viewing pictures of a romantic partner was recently demonstrated to reduce experimental thermal pain. We hypothesized that pain relief evoked by viewing pictures of a romantic partner would be associated with neural activations in reward-processing centers. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we examined fifteen individuals in the first nine months of a new, romantic relationship. Participants completed three tasks under periods of moderate and high thermal pain: 1) viewing pictures of their romantic partner, 2) viewing pictures of an equally attractive and familiar acquaintance, and 3) a wordassociation distraction task previously demonstrated to reduce pain. The partner and distraction tasks both significantly reduced self-reported pain, although only the partner task was associated with activation of reward systems. Greater analgesia while viewing pictures of a romantic partner was associated with increased activity in several reward-processing regions, including the caudate head, nucleus accumbens, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex - regions not associated with distraction-induced analgesia. The results suggest that the activation of neural reward systems via non-pharmacologic means can reduce the experience of pain. © 2010 Younger et al.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Younger J; Aron A; Parke S; Chatterjee N; Mackey S
  • Volume

  • 5
  • Issue

  • 10