Separate Neural Representations for Physical Pain and Social Rejection.

Citation: Woo, C.W., Koban, L., Kross, E., Lindquist, M.A., Banich, M.T., Ruzic, L., Andrews-Hanna, J.R., Wager, T.D. (2014). Separate Neural Representations for Physical Pain and Social Rejection. Nature Communications.

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Current theories suggest that physical pain and social rejection share common neural mechanisms, largely by virtue of overlapping fMRI activity. Here we challenge this notion by identifying two distinct, multivariate fMRI patterns sensitive and specific to pain and rejection. Sixty participants experienced painful heat and warmth and viewed photos of ex-partners and friends on separate trials. FMRI pattern classifiers discriminate pain and rejection from their respective control conditions in out of sample individuals with 92% and 80% accuracy. The rejection classifier performs at chance on pain, and vice versa. The multivariate patterns for pain and rejection are uncorrelated within and across regions, and show distinct functional connectivity patterns in a separate resting state dataset (N = 91). These findings demonstrate that separate representations underlie pain and rejection despite common fMRI activity at the gross anatomical level. Rather than co-opting pain circuitry, rejection involves distinct affective representations in humans.