More Friends = Less Pain
The more friends you have, the higher your tolerance for pain, according to a new study from the U.K. Researchers at the University of Oxford wanted to know whether our social networks affect the activity of endorphins in our brains, perhaps enabling these natural compounds to better tamp down pain in people with a wide circle of friends. To test this idea they recruited 101 adults ages 18 through 34 and asked them to respond to a questionnaire on their social contacts. The associations asked about were not limited to the people the participants saw or talked to daily but also those they were in touch less frequently, including once a week and once a month. The respondents also rated their stress levels and fitness and the researchers assessed such traits as “agreeableness.” To determine pain tolerance the researchers asked the volunteers to squat against a wall with their knees at right angles and stay in that uncomfortable position as long as they could. Combining the information about the size of the participants’ social networks and the length of time they were able to squat, the researchers found that those with more friends were better able to tolerate pain, suggesting that our endorphins are positively influenced by how well connected we are to others.
My take? Although the study was somewhat unconventional, this is an interesting finding and plays into my long held view that we haven’t evolved to be alone. We need the intimate support of a family and are meant to be part of larger communities, bands and tribes. In addition, the kind of connectedness you can get by playing a role in your community – working with others for common goals – can give you great satisfaction. There are many rewards to being part of a wide social circle. This study suggests that greater tolerance for pain may be one of them.
-Dr. Krista Jordan, Program Director, Restore FX