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Pain is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that encompasses both physical pain experienced physiologically and social pain experienced emotionally. The interactions between them are thought to lead to increased pain load. However, the effect of social pain on physical pain perception during interactions remains unclear. Four experiments were conducted merging physical and social pains to examine the behavioral pattern and neural mechanism of the effect of social pain on physical pain perception. Seemingly paradoxical effects of social pain were observed, which both facilitated and inhibited physical pain perception under different attention orientations. Brain imaging revealed that the posterior insula encoded the facilitatory effect, whereas the frontal pole engaged in the inhibitory effect. At a higher level, the thalamus further modulated both processes, playing a switch-like role under different concern statuses of social pain. These results provide direct evidence for the dual-pathway mechanism of the effect of social pain on physical pain.

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Journal article



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Biological sciences, Health sciences, Neuroscience