Pain Suppresses the Activity Of the Brain Reward System

Stéphane Potvin, PhD
Centre de recherche
Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal
Full professor; Department of psychiatry and addiction
University of Montreal What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Potvin: Let’s begin by using a concrete example. First, imagine that you are taking a walk and it is really cold outside; so cold, in fact, that you can no longer enjoy the experience. Upon returning home, you realize that you no longer feel the pain, and you now have a smile on your face. During this sequence of events, what happened in your brain? To figure it out, we performed a functional neuroimaging study during which a painful cold gel was applied on the right foot of a group of healthy volunteers. What we discovered is that during pain stimulation, there was a clear de-activation of the medial orbito-frontal cortex, which is one of the main “pleasure” centers in the brain. Intriguingly, we observed that after the cold pain stimulation was discontinued, participants experienced significant levels of pleasant emotions that lasted for approximately 4 minutes.