Saturday, March 1, 2014

Pain, Empathy and Emotion: Scientific Version

I want to go ahead today and add a response I posted on an Asperger website after another poster quoted from "The Simpsons." The idea in the quote relates to the Asperger / Social Majority conflict over emotion and a possible explanation for the misunderstanding.  

Homer to Marge: "You don't appear to be in any kind of physical pain, the only type of pain a man understands".

I am female, but I am unable to tell the difference between physical and emotional pain. There are times I've gone to a medical doctor, because I really can't figure out if I'm sick or upset. This led me to read about how the brain processes pain and "feels" emotions. Guess what? There is only one circuit for both - emotional pain is physical. How could it be otherwise unless you believe that emotions are supernatural, which I'm sure many social people believe.  

Only three or four emotions exist: the flight or fight response of aggression and fear; disgust, and pleasure. From my own experience, I suspect that Asberger individuals experience a default "neutral" state. Social children learn to diffuse and differentiate their basic pain responses and to give those new states names - it's a fundamental task of social training. This is especially true for females. Inflating and dispersing pain via hundreds of descriptive words serves to keep females confused, distracted from anger and fear, and obsessed with subtle differences and changes in social emotions. This socialization of pain keeps women powerless. Society teaches females to imagine that real physical responses are thousands of subtle and entangled emotions that don't really exist!

What I am suggesting is that Aspies experience basic physiological pain, not the "emotions" social children learn. Also that we have a neutral setting, which is our default setting. This benign state produces our familiar "blank reaction" when people say something unimportant or baffling. We just don't feel emotion/pain unless something in the environment triggers the fight or flight response or pleasure or disgust. Social people interpret our neutral setting as offensive; after all, to them, everything they say or do, and the reaction they get from people, is vital to the continuing existence of the universe. Social people assume that we don't care about human beings because we're not in their frantic (to us) emotional mode 24/7. Emotion for us isn't this fantastical overwhelming supernatural state that colors and controls the fate of mankind. For us it is pain or the absence of pain - and our response is most often flight.

I think this also may explain why Asperger individuals commonly suffer from anxiety. From the time we are young, social situations are fight or flight for us because we are rejected and treated badly. We are different, and social people react very negatively to that fact. Diversity is not really a social value.

If you whack a dog on the nose every time it gets up on the couch, and then force it to get up on the couch and whack it again for doing so, and repeat this cycle again and again, will that dog not soon be in a state of perpetual fear?

Support for the Asperger Experience of Emotion as Pain

FROM:  Your Brain: Your Pharmacist. Brain prescribes opioids for rejection – and rewards social acceptance with opioids! Posted on November 20, 2013 by consummatenovice

For the last decade researchers have found that emotional pain experienced from social rejection activates the same region of the brain that physical pain activates – the pain center. (see previous post "The Science of Pain, Empathy and Emotion) 

Scientists believe that since mammals live in social groups that are crucial to survival, social rejection is akin to a physical threat to our brain. A recent paper by Hsu et al. from the University of Michigan, has now shown that the same opioid receptors located in the brain’s pain center activated in response to physical pain are also activated by emotional pain and that the more opioid response an individual releases, the more that person scores high on the trait “resiliency”.  The study also found that the brain rewards social acceptance with activation of opioid receptors located elsewhere in the brain.

The brain protects itself from feeling too much physical pain by dosing itself with endogenous opioids. It lets you feel pain so you know that whatever it is you are doing should stop, but then alleviates its own pain by activating opioid receptors located in the pain center of the brain. Presumably, this neat self-soothing mechanism exists so when we get hurt we don’t just lie down and cry. (My personal experience points to the failure of this quenching or dampening of pain; the result is panic and anxiety that will escalate to unbearable levels.)
Given the similarities in the experience of physical and emotional pain, scientists have hypothesized that emotional pain also results in opioid receptor activation. In this study, Hsu and Zubieta used a radiotracer specific for opioid receptors to visualize the release of endogenous opioids with PET imaging in response to stimuli.

Expectedly, rejected subjects felt more “sad and rejected” and less “happy and accepted,” while accepted subjects felt the opposite. Interestingly, subjects with high opioid activity rated themselves as lower in the “sad and rejected” scale. These findings suggest that individuals with a robust opioid response bounce back more quickly in the face social rejection. This data corroborates a study by Way et al. from 2009 which examined the differences in activation of the brain’s pain center in response to social rejection between people who have a normal opioid receptor gene and those who have a mutation in the receptor. The mutated receptor is thought to have greatly reduced function and carriers of this mutation have been shown to need greater amounts of opioids to treat physical pain (ex: post-surgical pain). Way and Eisenberg saw that carriers of the mutation had greater activation of the pain center than non-carriers.

These findings will hopefully lead to new therapies and interventions with individuals suffering from depression, social anxiety, and other psychological disorders.

Hsu, D. et al. Response of the μ-opioid system to social rejection and acceptance. Molecular psychiatry 18, 1211–7 (2013).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Eugenics aka "Good Birth" Cannot Be Ignored

Most Americans are unaware of the Eugenics movement in U.S. history, which was an attempt at improving the human species through selective reproduction. Superior people were encouraged to have children; inferior people were to be banned from reproducing. This goal of directing the future of human evolution was not promoted by mere crack pots or racists: laws were passed in many states which allowed the sterilization of an array of "unfit" humans; approximately 60,000 citizens were sterilized in 33 states. Those of us who have been diagnosed as autistic or Asperger, and our parents, friends and relatives, need to be aware of this movement, its history and the ongoing presence of ideas that support genetic discrimination.

Eugenics promoted the "weeding out" of defective humans through selective breeding. Only 'superior' humans would be allowed to have children - and defective humans prevented from having children. This movement was popular in the United States during the first half of the 20th C.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Empathy; the Religion of Psychology

The ease with which the psychological concept of Empathy has been co-opted as a religious / moral value, and infantilized in the process, suggests that rather than having a real existence, Empathy is supernatural. 

The unexplained transfer of emotions, thoughts and experiences between 'normal' humans, without any objective or explicit communication between them, would seem to require a magical transcendence of physical law. The public can be forgiven for assuming that Empathy powers miracles.                                        

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Asperger's: An Unsought Individuality

Being diagnosed as Asberger's confers a strange unsought individuality.
We exist at the edge of the human domain, not looking inward to an anthropocentric land of incessant squabbles and breathtaking cruelty, but deeply, into the complex manifestation of matter and energy that is our earth. We also look outward to the inhuman universe, whatever it may be. We see what social humans refuse to see. Humans are not the summation of evolution, but one flicker in an emerging image.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Animals Granted Empathy by Psychologists

Animals granted Empathy


Animal not granted Empathy:
Autistic and Asperger children.