Identity

Friendship Is More Powerful than Morphine, New Study Finds

New research from Oxford University suggests that people with more friends feel less pain.
May 2, 2016, 4:30pm
Photo by KKGAS via Stocksy

In March, to the horror of BFFs everywhere, a study revealed that only stupid people have lots of friends. Now, another (unrelated) study could offer us deeper insight into why stupid people are this way. Could dumb-dumbs be seeking the numbing, feel-good effects of having buddies? A recent study from Oxford University (OU) found that friendship is an effective painkiller.

According to OU, Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student in the university's psychiatry and experimental psychology department, made this discovery after testing a theory that "social interactions trigger positive emotions when endorphin binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This gives us that feel-good factor that we get from seeing our friends," she told the university.

Advertisement

The theory was tested with the understanding that endorphins are even better at eliminating pain than morphine."If the theory was correct, people with larger social networks would have higher pain tolerance," OU reported, "and this was what their study found."

Read more: Only Stupid People Have Lots of Friends

The study required subjects to answer a survey that delved into their personal relationships and social networks. After that, they did "wall-sits"—the gym-class exercise that involves squatting against a wall with your knees at a 90-degree angle. "The study found that people who could endure this pain test for longer, also tended to have larger social networks," OU wrote.

Dr. Robert Sternberg is a professor of human development at Cornell University specializing in intelligence and relationships. In an interview with Broadly, he explained that these findings are not necessarily meaningful because the study appears to be correlational and not causal. In other words, just because the subjects with the most friends experienced less pain doesn't mean that friendship caused that pain reduction. "These sorts of correlational studies often lead to mistaken conclusions," he explained. "The trick is determining causality."

In March, when it was revealed that stupid people have lots of friends, Broadly spoke with the world's leading society of geniuses. A representative of the Mensa informed us that "very intelligent people can sometimes feel isolated from those around them just because they think and see the world differently." The fact that smart people isolate, and tend to have fewer friends, seems relative to the findings of Johnson's study as well.

"If you are experiencing more pain, you may just not be in a position to seek out friends because you are dealing with your pain," Sternberg said. So maybe those lonely, pain-ridden wall-squatters in Oxford's study report having fewer friends because they're spending more time dealing with their low tolerance for pain. "People who experience more pain—for whatever reason—are more likely to be in a hospital or in treatment or at home dealing with pain, and less likely to be with friends," Dr. Sternberg said.