Witnessing another person’s physical pain registers more quickly in the brain than compassion for social or psychological pain, but the latter leaves a much longer-lasting impression.

New brain-imaging research showed an almost immediate “wince” reaction to seeing someone’s physical pain. By contrast the brain took 6 to 8 seconds to respond to stories about social or psychological pain — a very long time considering that neurons fire within milliseconds. However, the brain’s response to social or psychological situations lingered for much longer than the response to physical pain. That may suggest a more complex thought process, compared to the instinctive evolutionary reaction to physical pain.

Compassion for another person’s social or psychological pain also activated some of the same brain areas triggered by compassion for physical pain, and particularly the region responsible for gut feelings, known as the anterior insula.

“It’s almost as if we have a body in which to play out feelings about other people’s situations, but that body is subdivided between the musculoskeletal system and the gut,” Immordino-Yang noted.

The full research is detailed in the April 13 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Full article:   http://www.livescience.com/culture/090417-gentle-emotions.html

By Jeremy Hsu, Staff Writer

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