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Anna Dela Cruz's picture

Pain and Behavior

The discussions on action potentials and pain reminded me of an episode of Grey's Anatomy which aired a few years ago when the series was actually worth watching. In the episode, "Sometimes A Fantasy", a girl is brought into the hospital with a history of injuries. Alex, an intern, believes that the girl is a victim of child abuse, an all-too common and an unfortunate reality of foster care. However, by the end it is revealed that the girl has a rare genetic disorder which causes her to be insensitive to pain. Due to this insensitivity, the girl believed that she was a superheroine and often dared classmates to injury her (i.e. baseball bats to the stomach) in order to prove her superhero status hence her numerous injuries. This idea of pain insensitivity prompted me to research its connection to behavior. Do people who suffer this rare but real-life condition have notions of indestructibility? My research led me to a National Geographic article (link provided below) that elucidated the issue at hand. The article revealed that a mutated gene found in a population located in northern Pakistan could very well be the cause for the disorder. This mutation inhibits the function of a protein responsible for crossing charged chemicals to the surface of nerve cells by forming channels for the which the chemicals could cross. Apparently, the deactivation of the protien affectively deactivates stimulation of the particular nerve cells responsible for sensing pain and not those responsible for sensing pressure, temperature, or shapes.

What I find most intriuging about the article is its connection to behavior. The boy who clued the researchers into the genetic disorder unfortunately died after jumping off a house--perhaps implying that he had an episode of false indestructibility. A man who reached 20 years of age before he was diagnosed proved to be more lucky. Watching other people's reactions to situations involving pain allowed him to figure out what to do and what not to do in certain situations. Take for example, being electrically shocked while wiring. His arms started to shake with the voltage coursing through his body. At first he thought it was funny then he realized that perhaps this was not an appropiate outcome of wiring. Though he felt nothing, he was left with burns on his hands. I marvel at the idea of having to learn a behavior when normally, this reaction is under the responsibility of reflexes first initiated by the sensation of pain.


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