Pain, A Learned Trait?

Rene Des Cartes, the famous French Philosopher, and Scientist, first determined the relationship between the brain and your body. He postulated that the body was a conduit to signals and your brain passively received that message without forming opinions. Were you hurting badly from that knock on the table? Your knuckles amplified the signal, and the brain just received the signal as is. In the last few decades, scientists have overturned this theory. The new belief postulated by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall argued that far from being passive the brain determined how much pain we felt. Could you then decide how much pain to feel?

Scientists argue that you can. That pain is a learned trait, and if you suffer from chronic pain, you can turn the feeling off. For most of us, we may not want to do so as pain indicates the need for urgent attention to a hurting part of your body. For those who suffer from chronic pain long after the cause has gone, it can serve as a significant relief.

In tests done in people suffering from long-term chronic pain, also known as neuropathic pain, patients were taught to shift their axis of focus. Instead of focusing on their pain, they focused on an image of their brain feeling the pain. The part of the brain that was sensing the pain was the same required for the visualization. Therefore, you confused your brain with multiple sensations, and over time and with training, the brain would stop feeling the pain. In fact, if additional sensory inputs such as vibrations were provided, you were more likely to forget the pain. It took time and effort and persistence, but you could indeed teach yourself not to feel pain anymore. For too long we have been trained to be passive recipients of what happens to our body. Perhaps the monks know better, after all? They manage to get their body to do pretty much anything they want.


Ritesh is a born again health enthusiast and holds a Certificate in Physiology from Harvard Medical School and a Certificate in Nutrition from Tufts University.