Large Groups of Friends Are Better Than Morphine

Having many friends and socialising with them generates pain-killing effects to a greater extent than morphine, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

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We often hear the “quality over quantity” argument, but guess what, a new study published in shows that quantity might actually have its perks.

Researchers from Oxford University concluded from a recent finding of theirs that individuals with more friends in their social circle also have more pain tolerance.

The aim of the study was to find out whether neurobiological differences could account for larger social networks as compared with those having more restricted friend lists.

Study co-author Katerina Johnson explains that their focus is on endorphins, a group of chemicals that mediate pain and pleasure sensations. They constitute a natural painkiller of the human body. Furthermore, they elicit a positive feeling that resembles the one generated by morphine; scientists say that they dampen pain to a greater extent than the latter. Previous research adds endorphins are associated with social bonding, and Johnson and her team have wanted to establish the relevance of one particular theory called the “brain opioid theory of social attachment” that suggests the binding of endorphins to opioid brain receptors is linked with social interactions triggering positive emotions.

To test this, the researchers evaluated the endorphin activity in the brain by using pain tolerance. Their hypothesis is that people having more friends will have greater pain tolerance since the “brain opioid theory of social attachment” is about how people tend to “feel awesome” in the company of their friends.

Their results show that having large social circles might actually relieve people of pain. Apart from the obvious relevance of the findings, Johnson mentions that they may be specially helpful when it comes to conditions like depression that are said to be accompanied with disruptions in endorphin levels (this link might explain why depression is often linked with a lack of pleasure and social withdrawal).

Another finding is that fitter people and those reporting high stress levels have the propensity to have fewer friends. Johnson interprets this as follows: people who spend relatively more time in physical activity might have less time to socialise or exercising provides another way for them to feel the same effects of endorphin with respect to socialising, and that having many friends help people to better manage stressful conditions.

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