Altruistic behavior reduces pain.
Previous research has shown that engaging in altruistic behaviors can help people feel good.
A group of researchers affiliated with several institutions in China found that people who practice altruistic behaviors feel less pain compared to their behavior otherwise. In their article, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists talk about experiments they conducted with volunteers and what they learned from them.
Previous research has shown that engaging in altruistic behavior (passing on/giving something to others without getting anything in return) can help people feel good - this causes the brain release chemicals like dopamine that enhance good feelings. Now researchers have found that participating in such activities can also dull the sensation of pain.
To find out more about how participation in altruistic behavior can affect pain perception, the researchers conducted four experiments. In the first experiment, they asked people who donated blood after an earthquake to rate how they felt the pain of a needle prick - they also asked people who donated blood when there was no recent disaster.
The researchers found that people who volunteered to donate blood after the earthquake reported that the needle caused less discomfort than the other group claimed.
In a second experiment, the researchers asked volunteers to help revise guidelines for migrant children while they (volunteers) were in cold conditions. They found that volunteers reported less cold discomfort than those who did not volunteer to revise the guidelines.
In a third experiment, the researchers compared cancer patients in pain who cooked and cleaned for others with similar patients who did it just for themselves - and again, they found that those who helped others reported less pain.
In a recent experiment, researchers asked volunteers to donate money to help orphans; they were also asked how much they thought their donation helped the children.
Then each of the volunteers underwent an MRI, while experiencing electric shocks. The researchers report that those who donated showed less brain response to shock than those who refused to donate. They also found that the more the volunteers felt that their donation helped the orphans, the less their brains reacted to shock.
The researchers suggest that their experiments, combined with other research findings, show that altruistic behavior not only makes people feel good, it also reduces pain.