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Description: Does this sound like an emotionally balanced movie plotline? A cute beagle puppy is killed in a home invasion robbery, but that event leads to the vengeful killing of a large number of Russian mobsters. You may recognize this as the plot of the first John Wick movie which may or may not been a film you liked but for those that did find the film entertaining (like me) what role might a killing spree justified by the killing of a puppy have to say about how we process or utilize painful emotions and pain in general? In other words, when and how might we seek or need pain (without being masochistically disordered)? What might saying that a baby is so cute you want to “gobble it up” or screaming when we see a long-missed friend or relative or seeking out seriously spicey food have in common? Think about that for a minute and then read the article linked below to see what psychology has to offer as possible ways to tie these rather diverse things together.

Source: Sometimes we love to scream in pain. What can science tell us about the reasons why? Paul Bloom (University of Toronto, and the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University) The Globe and Mail

Date: November 7, 2021

Image by (El Caminante) from Pixabay

Article Link:

You have likely heard of or seen infants who have “lost it” meaning that they became so tired or hungry or frustrated that they cried in consolably or in an out-of-control fashion. Emotional regulation is an example of the multitude of ways in which our systems keep us stable and how they adapt when we experience highs or lows in anything from emotion to hunger and thirst. The opponent process model where two systems contend against one another with the result being general balance within typical or usual levels. The actions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic components of our Autonomic nervous systems are prime examples of this sort of system that you may have run across in the stress section of an introductory psychology course. There are many other examples, including how our color vision system works. Think about how good a glass of water tastes and feels after a run or walk of a hot summer’s day or think about how good stiff muscles feel the day after a really good workout or think about the power of happy endings, whatever they involve, in Disney and John Wick movies. We are built of a wide array of balancing systems.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How might the John Mellencamp song “Hurts So Good” fit in with what the link article is discussing?
  2. What are some examples of opponent processes within us (physiologically and psychologically) and how do they work?
  3. What is benign masochism and how might it fit into regular, non-disordered, day-to-day functioning?

References (Read Further):

Rozin, P., Guillot, L., Fincher, K., Rozin, A., & Tsukayama, E. (2013). Glad to be sad, and other examples of benign masochism. Judgment and Decision Making, 8(4), 439. Link

Hye-Knudsen, M. (2018). Painfully Funny: Cringe Comedy, Benign Masochism, and Not-So-Benign Violations. Leviathan: Interdisciplinary Journal in English, (2), 13-31. Link

Wang, X., Geng, L., Qin, J., & Yao, S. (2016). The potential relationship between spicy taste and risk seeking. Judgment and Decision Making, 11(6), 547. Link

Clasen, M., Christiansen, J. K., & Johnson, J. A. (2019). Horror, personality, and threat simulation. Evol. Behav. Sci. Link

Leknes, S., Brooks, J. C., Wiech, K., & Tracey, I. (2008). Pain relief as an opponent process: a psychophysical investigation. European journal of neuroscience, 28(4), 794-801. Link

Scitovsky, T. (1978). An Opponent-Process Theory of Motivation. The American Economic Review, 68(6), 12-24. Link