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Intentional Pain

January 14, 2009

Pain hurts more when it’s intentional.


Pain that really hurts….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Pain hurts more if the person who inflicts it really means it. This according to social psychologists Kurt Wegner and Daniel Gray of Harvard University. They paired people up and let them choose whether their partner would receive an uncomfortable shock or a painless stimulus. When the first person signaled the intention to give a shock, the second received a shock. But, if the first wanted to give the painless stimulus, the second received a shock anyway. Gray says when shocked seemingly by accident, the second person got used to the pain quickly and it hurt less.

KURT GRAY (Harvard University):
Whereas those in the intentional condition felt the fresh sting of the first shock every time.

He says it makes sense for intentional pain to feel like it hurts more than unintentional pain, because it motivates us to get out of the way of a potentially dangerous threat. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.