Ever wondered why some people seem to feel less pain than others? The answer could lie in mindfulness, which could be targeted in the development of effective pain therapies, researchers say. The findings showed that people with higher dispositional mindfulness during painful experience showed greater deactivation in a brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex — a central neural node of the default mode network. They also experienced less pain.
Conversely, those with lower mindfulness ratings had greater activation of this part of the brain and also felt more pain. “Mindfulness is related to being aware of the present moment without too much emotional reaction or judgment,” said lead author Fadel Zeidan, Assistant Professor at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina, US.
“We now know that some people are more mindful than others, and those people seemingly feel less pain,” Zeidan added. For the study, published in the journal PAIN, the team analysed nearly 100 healthy volunteers to determine if dispositional mindfulness, an individual’s innate or natural level of mindfulness, was associated with lower pain sensitivity and to identify what brain mechanisms were involved.
Then, while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging, they were administered painful heat stimulation (120°F). The default mode network extends from the posterior cingulate cortex to the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. These two brain regions continuously feed information back and forth. This network is associated with processing feelings of self and mind wandering, Zeidan said.
“Importantly this work shows that we should consider one’s level of mindfulness when calculating why and how one feels less or more pain. “Based on our earlier research, we know we can increase mindfulness through relatively short periods of mindfulness meditation training, so this may prove to be an effective way to provide pain relief for the millions of people suffering from chronic pain,” Zeidan noted.