Are Friends Better Than Morphine for Killing Pain?

People with more friends have higher pain tolerance, Oxford University researchers have found.

“Chemicals in the brain called endorphins are natural painkillers,” said Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student in Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology. “Previous studies have suggested that endorphins promote social bonding in both humans and other animals. One theory, known as ‘the brain opioid theory of social attachment,’ is that social interactions trigger positive emotions when endorphin binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This gives us that feel-good factor that we get from seeing our friends. To test this theory, we relied on the fact that endorphin has a powerful pain-killing effect—stronger even than morphine.” 

The researchers used pain tolerance as a way to assess the brain’s endorphin activity. If the theory was correct, people with larger social networks would have higher pain tolerance—a theory that seemed to prove true in their study. Friendships may really help take the pain away.

This article was adapted from information provided by Oxford University.

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