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Circles of engagement: Childhood pain and parent brain

Journal title
Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews
Publication year
Simons, L. E.; Goubert, L.; Vervoort, T.; Borsook, D.

Social interaction can have a profound effect on individual behavior, perhaps most salient in interactions between sick suffering children and their parents. Chronic pain is a difficult condition that can produce considerable changes in children’s behaviors that can secondarily have profound effects on their parents. It may create a functionally disabling negative feedback loop. Research supports the notion of alterations in the brain of individuals who observe and empathize with loved ones in acute pain. However, neural activity in relation to empathic responses in the context of chronic pain has not been examined. Ongoing suffering with chronic pain in a child can result in child’s brain circuit alterations. Moreover, prolonged suffering jointly experienced by the parent may putatively produce maladaptive changes in their neural networks and consequently in parental behaviors. Here we put forth the conceptual framework for ‘Chronic pain contagion’ (CPC). We review the underlying processes in CPC and discuss implications for devising and implementing treatments for children in chronic pain and their parents.

Research abstracts