We often regard relief as the dissipation of pain, discomfort or stress. However, the specific emotion associated with the sense of relief really isn’t fully understood. It is for this reason a team of researchers from the Association for Psychological Science undertook a study in which they aimed to explore and understand more fully the psychological mechanisms at work responsible for providing us with the idea of relief.
To experts in the field, the term for relief after the removal of pain is called the pain offset relief.
The team states their research recognizes the concept of relief, and the mechanisms behind it, are nearly identical for both healthy individuals and those with a history of self-harm. They claim the identical nature of pain offset relief in both of these groups suggests it is a natural mechanism useful in regulating our emotions. Prior to the laboratory portion of the experiment, the researchers assessed participants for emotion dysregulation and reactivity, self-injurious behavior, and various psychiatric disorders.
When an individual is experiencing the sensation of pain or discomfort, the likelihood they will experience a negative emotion is significantly increased. The team wanted to learn specifically if pain offset relief led to more positive emotions being experienced or if it only aided in alleviation of negative emotions.
Lead author Joseph Franklin, along with his colleagues working on the study, employed the use of electrodes intended to measure the participants’ negative emotions and positive emotions when the participants were subjected to loud noises. The loud noise was sometimes presented on its own. At other times, the participants would have received a low- or high-intensity shock at either a 3.5, 6 or 14 second interval preceding the loud noise.
Participants in the study showed an increase in positive emotion in combination with decreased negative emotion after pain offset. They learned the greatest increase in positive emotion occurred almost simultaneously with the culmination of the high-intensity shocks. Alternately, the greatest decrease in negative emotion was associated with the culmination of a low-intensity shock.
The team has published their findings, which they claim will shed light on the emotional nature of pain offset relief, in the journal Psychological Science, as well as the journal Clinical Psychological Science. Additionally, they feel their study might be useful in gaining a better understanding into why some people would seek the sensation of relief by engaging in self-harm behaviors.
It is important to note the results of this study do not support the hypothesis that heightened pain offset relief is a risk factor for engaging in self-harm behaviors. In fact, the team speculates the biggest risk factors for nonsuicidal self-injury may concern how some people overcome the instinctive barriers that keep most people from inflicting self-harm.