Similar areas of the brain are activated when you burn your hand on the stove and when you bite into a cookie. Here's why.
To be clear, eating a cookie and burning your hand won't make you react the same way... unless the cookie is on fire. But, while it may seem like a cookie would bring us infinitely more joy than a burn, sometimes... it doesn’t.
When we feel pain, all sorts of feel-good chemicals get pumped into our system to cope.
Endorphins, anandamide, and adrenaline are all responsible for that “heat buzz” after a hot wings challenge. The hippocampus orders endorphins to block the transmission of pain signals, and stimulate the brain’s limbic and prefrontal regions. That’s where our penchant for grand romance and an appreciation of music lives.
Adrenaline raises your heart rate and excitement levels, while anandamide chills you out. Anandamide, aka the “bliss chemical,” is like the endorphins’ cool cousin. It binds to the same receptors in the brain as marijuana and produces the same warm, fuzzy feeling. And it’s not just chemicals that determine how we feel pain.
Our brains are smart. They’re able to determine when a stimulus that’s causing us pain isn’t a threat, even when our bodies are screaming that it is. That initial scary moment coupled with the realisation that we’d been duped by our senses, brings us pleasure.
The concept is called “benign masochism.” It’s what tells us it’s fun to eat ghost peppers, ride roller coasters, and take a whiff of old milk.