A large social network helps us to deal better with pain and stress
Researchers are now investigating the effects of social networks on human pain tolerance. They found that people with more friends had a significantly higher pain tolerance. So the amount of pain people can endure also depends on their friends.
Scientists from the University of Oxford found in a new study that people have an increased tolerance to pain when they have a lot of friends. Accordingly, people with a large social network endure more pain than people without many friends. The doctors published the results of their study in the scientific journal "Scientific Reports".
Study examines the effects of endorphin
The researchers were particularly interested in endorphin, a substance found in our brain. Endorphins are part of the regulation of pain and pleasure, explain the doctors. The chemical is our body's natural pain reliever, and it is also responsible for feelings such as friendship, explains Katerina Johnson from the University of Oxford. There is a theory that social interactions with friends can trigger positive emotions if endorphins bind to the opioid receptors in our brain. This creates a kind of so-called "feel-good factor". We experience that when we get to see our friends, Johnson adds.
Stressed and people with mental illnesses mostly have small social networks
Endorphins have a powerful analgesic effect that is even stronger than morphine, explains Johnson. The researchers used pain tolerance in volunteers as a way to assess endorphin activity in the brain. They found that people with larger social networks have a higher pain tolerance. The current results are also very interesting because other new studies suggested that our endorphin system could be disrupted by mental illnesses such as depression, Johnson said. This could result in depressed people often suffering from a lack of motivation and mostly living in a socially withdrawn state, adds the doctor.
People who often suffer from stress usually have smaller social networks. The researchers also report that fitter people often have a smaller group of friends. The doctors suspect that people who train a lot have less time to maintain their social networks. However, both physical and social activities release endorphins. Perhaps some people use exercise to get a so-called endorphin kick instead of socializing with others, Johnson suspects.
People with large social networks have clear advantages in pain tests
The results of the study show a connection between stress and smaller social networks. People with a larger social network may just be better able to deal with their stress, the researchers say. Or it could mean that people with a lot of stress simply have less time for social activities. As a result, their network will shrink, the experts explain. Study participants were asked to complete a questionnaire related to their closest social networks. In addition, information about lifestyle and personality was determined, the authors say. The scientists then carried out a test in which the test subjects had to lean against a wall with a straight back. They bent their knees 90 degrees. Now they have been asked to hold this position for as long as possible, the scientists explain. The researchers observed how long the participants could endure the pain.
Of course there were differences in the individual fitness of the test subjects, which made it possible for some people to hold the position described longer. But the results clearly show that the people who endured the pain test longest had the largest social networks, the doctors add. (as)