The effect of physical and social pain on helping behavior
Lahr, Ben Litwack
Zansberg, Gabriel Weil
May 20, 2020
Neural imaging suggests an overlap between the brain’s response to physical and social pain. If physical and social pain overlap in underlying neural circuitry, it is possible that both types of pain have similar behavioral consequences. By using two well-known pain manipulations, we investigated how physical and social pain affected helping behavior. The Cold Pressor Test was used to manipulate physical pain. Participants immersed their non-dominant forearm in ice-cold water for up to three minute to cause pain. Cyberball, a computerized simulation of social ostracism, was utilized to induce social pain. Participants in the painless control group recalled a typical Thursday. After the pain manipulation, researchers subtly knocked over a cup of pencils onto the floor as they handed a post-test questionnaire to the participant, and the participant’s helping behavior was measured. Based on the martyrdom effect, we hypothesized that physical and social pain would lead to significantly more helping behavior than the control group. Based on social pain overlap theory, we also expected the physical and social pain groups to not differ significantly. Our data trended in the hypothesized directions. However, no group differences were significant. We were unable to support or refute either social pain overlap theory or the martyrdom effect, and we suggest that future researchers either use different methods to measure helping behavior or choose a behavior with fewer experimental confounds.
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