Department of Psychiatry
University of Pennsylvania
Pain in the Brain or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Inanimate Objects
Our conscious experiences of pain and pleasure share many similar qualities: both narrow one’s range of focus, prioritize attention, occupy mental capacity and make it difficult to think about anything else, facilitate learning of predictive cues, and assign a high motivational priority to appropriate goals. This suggests that pain and pleasure might arise from or compete for shared neural circuits in the brain. However, the divergent and defining features of pain vs. pleasure lay in the perceived valence of the experience, i.e. pleasant vs. unpleasant. The most primordial motivated behaviors, avoiding pain and seeking pleasure, are derived from emotional or valence information. The ability of valence circuits to generate categorizations of external and internal sensory information as “beneficial” or “harmful” is essential for protective learning, behavior selection, and survival. Sensory information, including pain-related nociception, is, by nature, “qualitatively meaningless” and inherently neutral, and only acquires emotional impact once processed through categorical valence circuitries. In this talk, we will discuss recent findings that detail how the amygdala, a deep brain emotional structure, transforms sensory signals into motivational and cognitive responses, how miscoding of this information leads to the emergence of chronic pain and addiction, and future technologies for removing the “hurt” from pain.
A pizza lunch will be served at 11:45am. The seminar will run from 12:00pm – 1:30pm.