The Pain Project

Volkswagen Foundation project: The Social Modulation of Pain (WHY LOVE HURTS)

VW call: European Platform for Life Sciences, Mind Sciences and the Humanities; Phase 2

VW funding: € 395,641 for three years

Principal Investigator: Dr Katerina Fotopoulou

Host institution: Kings College London (UK)

Project investigators and cooperation partners: Anne Springer, Verena Gottschling




Pain is one of the largest health problems in the developed world, yet a persistent challenge for philosophy and science. A clinically important, but empirically neglected topic is the social modulation of pain. We will conduct conceptual, psychophysical and neuroimaging investigations addressing the following questions: (1) How does social attachment and empathy influence acute and chronic pain? (2) Which individual and crosscultural traits modulate this influence? (3) Which neurobiological mechanisms underlie such effects? (4) Can psychotherapy alter individual chronic responses to social relating and pain, and if so, by which neural mechanisms? (5) If psychosocial variables and talking therapies significantly influence the functioning of the brain, which mentalistic concepts used in psychology and philosophy are indispensable for a full understanding of the neuropsychology of pain? Our results will contribute to pain understanding, management and neuropsychotherapy. Importantly, our project addresses one of the oldest questions in psychology, philosophy and medicine; how mind–body processes affect healing.


Drs Fotopoulou and Springer at Max Plank Center in Leipzig


Mapping the Pain Group