Publication details [#1225]

Iannetti, Giandomenico, Tim V. Salomons, Massieh Moayedi, André Mouraux and Karen D. Davis. 2013. Beyond metaphor: contrasting mechanisms of social and physical pain. Trends in cognitive sciences 17 (8) : 371–378. 8 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Amsterdam: Elsevier


This is an opinion article that criticises arguments that have been put forward in support of the idea that social distress is experienced as physical pain. For example, in a study by Eisenberg et al. (2003) brain activity during social exclusion was observed in the same regions that were activated when experiencing physical pain. That study was followed by similar studies which also showed an overlap in activity. The standpoint in this article, however, is that these studies are flawed in various respects and that they are not sufficiently supported by empirical data. What causes the overlap is instead the fact that both social distress and physical pain are salient and therefore trigger the same multimodal cognitive processes. It has also recently been shown that the spatial patterns are not exactly the same and constitute distinct experiences at a neuronal level. Metaphors that make comparisions between emotional distress and physical pain are therefore said to be literary devices which are not grounded in physical reality.