Pain hurts more if someone inflicts it intentionally

December 20th, 2008 - 3:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 20 (IANS) When someone shoves you out of the way of a speeding car and saves your life, you feel a sense of overwhelming relief, shrugging off deep and aching bruises all over your body. But, if someone pushes you intentionally out of sheer spite, even though you are unharmed, your sense of hurt would be far greater and would linger on and on.Harvard researchers have discovered that our experience of pain depends on whether we someone caused the pain intentionally or inadvertantly.

In their study, participants who believed they were getting an electrical shock from another person on purpose, rather than accidentally, rated this as more painful.

Participants seemed to get used to shocks that were delivered unintentionally, but those given on purpose had a fresh sting every time.

The research was led by Kurt Gray, a graduate student in psychology, along with Daniel Wegner, professor of psychology.

“This study shows that even if two harmful events are physically identical, the one delivered with the intention to hurt actually hurts more,” said Gray.

“Compare a slap from a friend as she tries to save us from a mosquito versus the same slap from a jilted lover. The first we shrug off instantly, while the second stings our cheek for the rest of the night,” he added.

The study’s authors suggest that intended and unintended harm cause different amounts of pain because they differ in meaning.

The study included 48 participants who were paired up with a partner who could administer to them either an audible tone or an electric shock.

In the intentional condition, participants were shocked when their partner chose the shock option, said a Harvard release.

In the unintentional condition, participants were shocked when their partner chose the tone option. Thus, in this condition, they only received a shock when their partner did not intend them to receive one.

The computer display ensured that participants both knew their partner’s choice and that a shock would be coming, to ensure the shock was not more surprising in the unintentional condition.

“If it’s an accidental harm, chances are it’s a one-time thing, and there’s no need to do anything about it. If it’s an intentional harm, however, it may be the first of many, so it’s good to take notice and do something about it,” said Gray.

The findings have been published in the current issue of Psychological Science.

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