And, this is your brain on… Pain.
Gustin and colleagues found that people with chronic pain were more passive and less novelty-seeking than the controls.
“Chronic pain patients are less likely to want to go out and explore the world,” says Gustin.
Imaging found chronic pain patients had greater activity in parts of the brain involved in emotions, cognition and behaviour
In particular, they had more neuronal growth in the prefrontal cortex, which is a part of the brain linked to emotions, cognition and behaviour — including seeking out new experiences.
The degree of nerve growth was correlated with the degree of personality change, says Gustin.
She says previous research in animals also showed similar changes associated with chronic pain, says Gustin.
Gustin and colleagues argue that these brain changes occur after the onset of chronic pain and lead to a reduction in novelty seeking.
Gustin thinks greater nerve growth occurs in the prefrontal cortex because people are focusing more on their pain.
“I think this is because these people are thinking and worrying more,” she says.
She says this worrying in turn could prove to be a “vicious cycle” by exacerbating the brain linkages that lead to decreased novelty-seeking.
Gustin says other diseases could also lead to subtle personality changes like this.
The findings challenge a long-standing view that people don’t change their personality after the age of 18, she adds.
On one level, the above-linked article is hardly new.
I’ve had so many different massages, physio, chiro, yoga and medical people saying repeatedly that they see a direct link between the degree to which people focus on pain, the increase of that pain and the damage it does to the very fabric of those people’s beings.
I’ve chatted with high-level certified trainers who have noted that the average performance athlete endures many times greater pain every day than some of the worst chronic pain sufferers and, at least on a personality level, remain unchanged by such. Somehow, they manage to preemptively train their brains to focus elsewhere.
For both of these categories of practitioners, the above is not a shock.
But, what’s interesting about the above is that now research data is starting to trickle in as to the mechanism by which the brain actually recreates itself to maximize and focus on pain and that personality, long touted as eternal and unchanging, is finally being understood as the plastic entity we have always seen it to be — in this case, in a very counterproductive way.
What’s still missing, however, is a solidly researched method to reverse the above and make that neuronal growth go elsewhere which would, itself, likely have to be preceded by an understanding of which of the above three elements (Focus, increase or personality) is essential to the reversal of such.