The interaction between pain and social behavior in humans and rodents

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2014;20:233-50. doi: 10.1007/7854_2014_287.


Pain elicits behaviors in humans and nonhuman animals that serve as social cues. Pain behaviors serve a communicative function in humans, and this may be true as well in other animals. This review considers the current evidence for modulation of acute pain in different social contexts in humans and rodents, with a focus on dyadic social interactions. Increasing data supports the ability of social buffering, emotional contagion (a form of empathy), vicarious learning, and social stress to modulate pain sensitivity and pain behavior in mice and rats. As in humans, many of these social factors operate, and affect pain, in a sex-dependent manner. The development of a true social neuroscience of pain, with detailed explication of the underlying neurochemistry and genetics, now seems achievable.