Summary: A new study looks at why pain enhances some people’s ability to perform well.
Despite being hampered by painful injuries, many athletes continue to compete and win. For example, Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bobby Baun scored the winning goal in overtime despite breaking his ankle earlier in Game 6, helping his team win the Stanley Cup in 1964.
Why is it that some individuals can perform a task – and do it well – while experiencing pain?
“There is a complex relationship between pain and attention, where pain can modulate attention and vice versa. Moreover, the interplay between these two factors differs from one person to the next,” explains Dr. Karen Davis.
Dr. Davis has shown that individuals can be classified as one of two types depending on how pain affects their performance in doing a task. In P-type individuals, pain impedes their ability to perform a task; whereas, in A-type individuals, like Bobby Baun, pain enhances their performance.
To gain a better understanding of the brain mechanisms that contribute to this divergent behaviour during pain, Dr. Davis and her PhD student Joshua Cheng led a study examining patterns of brain activity in these two groups.
First, 51 healthy participants were classified as either A-type or P-type based on their performance in a complex mental task in the presence and absence of a painful stimulus. Next, the participants underwent a functional MRI (fMRI) scan, while they were not thinking of anything in particular, to measure their spontaneous brain activity.
The researchers focused their study on the activity of brain cells in two networks: the executive control (EC) network and the salience network. The EC network helps to optimize a person’s behaviour in response to what’s happening around them; whereas, the salience network is normally engaged when something like pain draws your attention.
Through their analysis, Dr. Davis and her research team discovered a link between spontaneous brain activity and task performance with pain. The synchrony of activity between the EC network and the salience network, as well as within the salience network, was more flexible in A-type individuals than P-type individuals. These findings suggest that brain communication is more flexible in A-type individuals – a feature that could be important for prioritizing task performance over pain, producing better performance.
Regarding her future work, Dr. Davis says, “We’d like to explore whether communication flexibility is disrupted in chronic pain and how it is altered by treatments for chronic pain – including surgery, medications and cognitive-behavioural therapy. This will improve our understanding of the mechanisms underpinning chronic pain, which will be instrumental for developing more effective and personalized therapies for this debilitating condition.”
Funding: Supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation.
Source: Jarrett Churchill – UHN
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Slow-5 dynamic functional connectivity reflects the capacity to sustain cognitive performance during pain” by J. C. Cheng, R. L. Bosma, K. S. Hemington, A. Kucyi, M. A. Lindquist, and K. D. Davis in NeuroImage. Published May 2018.
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]UHN “Why Some Gain While in Pain.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 29 May 2018.
<https://neurosciencenews.com/pain-gain-9170/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]UHN (2018, May 29). Why Some Gain While in Pain. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved May 29, 2018 from https://neurosciencenews.com/pain-gain-9170/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]UHN “Why Some Gain While in Pain.” https://neurosciencenews.com/pain-gain-9170/ (accessed May 29, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
Slow-5 dynamic functional connectivity reflects the capacity to sustain cognitive performance during pain
Some individuals are more distracted by pain during a cognitive task than others, representing poor pain coping. We have characterized individuals as A-type (attention dominates) or P-type (pain dominates) based on how pain interferes with task speed. The ability to optimize behavior during pain may relate to the flexibility in communication at rest between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of the executive control network, and the anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC) of the salience network (SN) – regions involved in cognitive-interference. The aMCC and aIns (SN hub) also signify pain salience; flexible communication at rest between them possibly allowing prioritizing task performance during pain. We tested the hypotheses that pain-induced changes in task performance are related to resting-state dynamic functional connectivity (dFC) between these region pairs (DLPFC-aMCC; aMCC-aIns). We found that 1) pain reduces task consistency/speed in P-type individuals, but enhances performance in A-type individuals, 2) task consistency is related to the FC dynamics within DLPFC-aMCC and aMCC-aIns pairs, 3) brain-behavior relationships are driven by dFC within the slow-5 (0.01–0.027 Hz) frequency band, and 4) dFC across the brain decreases at higher frequencies. Our findings point to neural communication dynamics at rest as being associated with prioritizing task performance over pain.