Is Pain Innate?

You ask most people about what causes pain and you’ll be given some sort of answer about damaged tissue, altered structures, and some derivatives of these.

If you happen to ask someone who is “knowledgeable” you’ll probably get told about pain fibers or chemical markers like substance P.

Pain is a topic that we have not had a great grasp of in the past and applied extreme reductionism to and disseminated a huge amount of misinformation on.

Most of the public has little to no concept of what our evidence currently indicates about pain.

In the coming months I’m going to start discussing more and more about this topic and hopefully help shift some of the narrative around it.

One concept I wanted to discuss is the concept of the innate-ness of pain.

It’s a unique and interesting thought:

Are we born with pain?

When an infant is born they often enter the world screaming and crying.

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Is this pain?

Are the other moments of time the infant experiences pain?

This is a heavily challenging question given how we approach it.

If you go with the heavy biomedical model of pain where pain is from certain fibers being stimulated after a threshold stimulus is reached, then obviously yes we could be born with pain.

As the infant leaves it’s safe environment of the womb, it is stimulated with a huge influx of different mechanical and chemical inputs that would likely reach a nociceptive level.

However, if this belief system of pain were right, then why do most infants stop screaming when being put on their parent’s chest?

The system of input wouldn’t change from those factors – the air isn’t going to be changing, the warmth wouldn’t drastically change, etc.

In contrast, many other factors would heavily change that this system doesn’t consider.

Perhaps the biomedical model isn’t the right way to think of it.

From a philosophical and enactive standpoint, pain is a unique experience that reflects our anxiety, fear, self-identity, need for safety and much more.

Using that perspective – which is my biased perspective – I’d say maybe, but for different reasons.

If you read the literature on pain, you’ll quickly realize pain is confusing as all hell and so much contributes to the experience of pain for someone.

When the infant is born, they go through an experience of high stress and challenge, leaving their safe womb and close connection.

As this process comes to completion, they are no longer in that safe environment and are now in a world completely unfamiliar with no sense of security or comfort.

Stripped from cozy home of the last 9 months (or however long their gestation was), no in a cooler, air filled, bright space.

That leading to fear, anxiety, and many of those things we said contribute to pain would make sense.

In that instance the infant is now screaming for security.

When provided the person they know – mother usually – relief comes and reassurance quickly over comes that fear and uncertainty.

Coming back to that question, are we in pain when born?

I’m hesitant to say that’s pain and instead it’s just screams for care and fear.

As we will examine in coming weeks and months, this may be pain for them, but for most people that’s not reflective of the experience of pain.

Instead, it may be that we start the world without KNOWING pain and through our experiences – observational, social, experiential, etc. we develop the concept of pain.

Next time:

Pain is learning, learning is pain.

Thanks for hanging out!


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