Researchers: Being selfless has the same effect as a painkiller

City living is an alienating experience. But just one selfless act can be enough to make or break a day, and remind us how it feels to be human.



They’re oh so precious because they’re oh so rare.

You know what I’m talking about. Those unexpected, kind gestures that come from out of nowhere in a world in a rush to get to who the fuck knows.

With so much technology, information, gossip, deadlines, phones, trains departing in 30 seconds and not-long-until-The-Whatever-airs, who has time to look up from a screen and take a moment – a breath even – let alone run over to a complete stranger to assist them with their collapsing grocery bags?

Our own time is too important and they can purchase canvas next time. But there is always, always time to be human.

We remember negative occurrences so easily. We complain about them with friends, work colleagues and our family. Lukewarm coffees, -5 temperatures and people just generally being horrible. It can often unite in a cacophony of bad vibes and self-pity, lingering in our minds. However, after a day or two, they’re usually forgotten about until the next time.

It is our positive encounters with people though – no matter how rare they may seem – that tend not to escape our memories at all.

These moments can often inspire, comfort, reinvigorate and restore our faith in humanity, no matter how big or small such moments may be.


I am certain I will never see him again, but then, I don’t need to. What’s important is that I was inspired by his selflessness to commit similar acts myself


In fact, researchers from several Chinese universities put together a study in order to more closely examine why humans might act altruistically at their own expense.

Their work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reveals some startling insights into different reasons why we may choose to give or help others at the cost of our own livelihood.

The newly-published paper demonstrated that acute pain was reduced when subjects acted for the benefit of others; indicating a sort of biological incentive.

The scientists found that “acting altruistically relieved not only acutely-induced physical pain among healthy adults, but also chronic pain among cancer patients”.

Devising a number of tests, the researchers were able to measure charitable actions—mostly altruistic giving—in parallel with pain sensitivity and management.

“Our research has revealed that in adverse situations, such as those that are physically threatening, acting altruistically can relieve unpleasant feelings, such as physical pain, in human performers of altruistic acts from both the behavioral and neural perspectives,” the conclusion reads.

“The finding that the incurrence of a personal cost to help others may buffer performers of altruistic acts from unpleasant conditions contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of human altruism.”

So next time you’re out and about, take a look around, breathe in and prepare yourself. You may either be the giver or receiver of a much needed selfless act.


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