The Pains of War
Psyc 150: Psychology of WWII, Paper #1
Pain is not merely the manifestation of some physical hurting from an injury, it comes in many different forms. It can be physical as well as mental. Pain is used as a warning sign to symbolize that something is wrong. Ever since birth, people are dependent on pain to recognize problems and to know when to take action about them. Without pain, there would be no sense of danger, it forces people and organisms to make the necessary changes for survival. The premise is the same with psychological pain, the pain experienced from social exclusion is so unpleasant that those who experience it will change in some way to avoid a recurrence (Williams & Zardo, 2001). People everywhere experience differing forms of pain everyday, but it is also very evident during significant life events such as war. During World War II, soldiers were subject to physical pain day in and day out if they were injured. They also felt a tinge of mental pain in the form of social exclusion, they were unable to interact with their friends and family while they were out fighting in the war. Many other groups also were unlucky enough to experience both types of pain including; Jewish people, homosexuals, gypsies and any other group that was discriminated against for not being of the Aryan race. The psychological pain came from their exclusion as well as the discrimination towards them, whereas the physical pains were established from the harsh conditions at the many concentration camps. Finally, those people who were lucky enough to be of the Aryan race, and were not fighting in the battlefield, still felt the pain of missing their loved one, especially if that person were to die during the war. It was hard for anyone to escape these five years of World War II without feeling pain, regardless of it's form.
The soldiers that were fighting in the battlefield, although they felt a little social exclusion it was not their main source of pain. Their pain came from injuries endured from fighting in battles. Due to the evolution of weaponry in the years leading up to and during the Second World War, medicine also had to evolve. There was much improvement in that field with the invention of penicillin, Sulfanilamide and most importantly, morphine (Steinert, 2000). People were in excruciating pain from the wounds they endured and the morphine was used to help them get through it. The medics would come by and administer a small dosage of morphine to the soldiers, just enough to knock them out and wake up the next day in the hospital (Steinert, 2000). They may have lost some time, but they were much better off than many people.
Others that had to endure possibly even more pain without the help of medicine, where those that were in concentration camps. There were many different types of concentration camps that were built across Europe, mostly in Germany and Poland. All of the camps, whether labor, prisoner of war, transit or extermination, differed in very distinct ways, but much of the pain experienced remained the same. Concentration camps saw different types of torture such as the pole hanging, which was used to extract confessions from prisoners. They also dealt with punishments involving complete darkness in closed quarters. One of the worst and most common form of torture however was disguised as their roll call system. Roll call would occur everyday in any type of weather, meaning that people would be standing outside in barely any clothing on for extended periods of time, actually resulting in deaths. If people were to disobey, not only during roll call but also at any point of time during the day, they would be met with brutal beatings. Sometimes, prisoners would be beaten for no good reason except that the guard “felt like it” or had nothing better to do with his time. The prisoners would also be in a chronic stage of starvation due to the lack of nutrients given to them (American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2013). They were to live of the bare minimum, many times that did not even include fresh water. But, to the National Socialist Party, the prisoners were dispensable and did not need to be treated fairly. This meant forcing the prisoners to sleep on hard boards in overcrowded conditions that were very uncomfortable (American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2013). They also had to deal with all of the illnesses that ran rampant throughout the camp. This usually meant being killed and cremated, however, until they were chosen to be terminated they still continued to do their jobs, which sometimes were menial tasks like moving rocks.
Not only did prisoners have to deal with this type of physical pain from exhaustion and illness, they also had to endure the psychological pain that went along with being socially excluded from not only their friends and family but the population as a whole. People in the ghettos were evacuated from their houses and moved into new houses with less room and less freedom. One of the good aspects of the ghettos was that the families were able to stay together and they did not have to be separated. This saved many people from the fear and anxiety of losing their family members. Those feelings did not disappear forever however, because the ghettos were soon evacuated and their inhabitants shipped to different concentration camps across Europe. People in the ghettos were also able to interact with other people, although the only people in the ghettos were Jewish, the population still had the all important human contact. This contact diminished upon arrival at concentration camps. Here, families were torn apart and people were forced into different groups depending on age and health. For some, this may have been one of the most painful aspects of the Holocaust, saying goodbye to their family members that they knew they would never see again. At concentration camps, prisoners were both physically and mentally excluded. They were physically excluded from human contact of loved ones as well as the population as a whole. No longer could they leave this small area that they were confined to. The mental exclusion came about from the discrimination they were experiencing. They knew that they were being ostracized since no one would speak to them or work with them. Although it's easy to know if you are being ostracized, it is difficult for people not involved first hand to recognize how painful ostracism can actually be. This empathetic gap only diminishes when people start to experience the social pain for themselves (Nordgren, Banas, & MacDonald, 2011).
It was easy for all Jewish people to feel empathetic towards others being prosecuted because even those “lucky” Jews that were allowed to stay in their house and not travel to a ghetto, never mind a concentration camp, still felt ostracized and therefore was subjected to the pain of exclusion. They were forced to stop working their normal schedule caring for their regular customers. They were forced to sit on yellow benches instead of the normal park ones, and were now marked by the Star of David on their clothing, place of work as well as their residence. As unpleasant as this may sound, this may have been one of the best case scenarios for anyone trying to make it through the Holocaust alive.
Social exclusion, also known as ostracism, is considered a form of social pain and has therefore been thoroughly investigated. Ostracism, sometimes measured through the online ball tossing game of Cyberball has been linked to a decrease in the four fundamental needs of humans (Williams & Zardo, 2001). These needs are sense of belonging, control, self esteem as well as meaningful existence. Not only do these four needs see a decrease as a result of social exclusion, there has been some evidence to support social pain in the forms of loneliness and ostracism can also cause an increase in negative affect, which is an increase in negative types of emotions. This is also linked to the increase in aggression some people feel after being socially excluded. Although heart rate has been seen to decrease in response to ostracism, there is more evidence to suggest that there is an increase in arousal towards social exclusion. This is measured not only by heart rate but also by the Galvanic Skin Response, which measures the conductivity of one's fingertips. The more aroused and sweaty a person is, the more conductive they become. These results are thought to have been brought on by the stress of not being included even though it is merely an online game. These results are also present in participatory ostracism in which real life people are excluding the participant, not computers (Nezlek et. al, 2012). Theeffects of ostracism are so powerful, they are even present when watching clips of a character in a movie being ostracized, when compared to the same character enjoying time with her friends (Coyne et. al, 2011). For some people, social pain was causing the most pain for them, like those stationed in Japanese internment camps or those allowed to stay in Germany, however, for many others, the pain was only beginning. They would soon start to feel the pains of living in a concentration camp and being on an unforgiving labor force.
The National Socialist Party probably did not realize they were doing this, but they allowed for the gradual build up of pain for the prisoners who eventually ended up at a labor camp. They started off with the social exclusion of living in a ghetto to the physical and emotional pain of living in a concentration camp, specifically a labor camp. Some of the prisoners may have been able to build up a tolerance to the pain, much like athletes that are less sensitive to pain after experiencing many injuries (Raudenbush, 2012). This may not however, be the case for all prisoners. The more likely scenario is the occurrence of pain sensitization, a learning process in which repeated exposure to stimuli will increase the response by neurons rather than decreasing it (Hollins, Harper, & Maixner, 2011). The body first adapts to the pain and then becomes more sensitive resulting in an overall increase in pain felt even though the intensity has not changed (Hollins et. al, 2011).
There were also many aspects of their daily life that seem unimportant but actually influenced their pain tolerance and made them feel worse. Not eating is painful in itself and people do not like to do it even if they are sick because of the common sense knowledge that the body needs nutrients to survive. As it turns out, food deprivation also decreases one's pain tolerance. In a study on food deprivation and consequent pain threshold as measured by a pressure algometer, it was found that those people that were food deprived had a significantly lower pain threshold level (Pollatos et. al, 2012). This can be explained by an imbalance in sympathovagal activation from food deprivation (Pollatos et. al, 2012). Although this particular study merely looks at healthy females, the body should react the same in both males and females. The people who were kept at the concentration camps were most likely the healthiest of the group since the weak and sick were sent off to be killed. Knowing that they could be disposed of at any second, prisoners also had a heightened stress and anxiety level which can also lead to a lower pain tolerance as your body is preoccupied with dealing with the effects that stress can have on one's body (Hampf, 1989). One other fascinating example to note is the effect that being in a powerful position can have on one's attitude. Not only do people in power conform and act more in line with how they are expected to behave, power can also increase one's pain threshold. Adopting a powerful pose can have the same effects of actually being in power because hormonal levels change and the chances of taking a risk increases (Bohns, & Wiltermuth, 2012). By not being able to adapt to this powerful pose or being able to interact with someone who held power (that was not discriminating against them) the prisoners' control over their pain tolerance became restricted. People who were submissive or neutral in a confrontation with someone in power showed lower pain thresholds. Being the dominant figure also gave the guards even more power and control over the prisoners than previously obtained (Bohns, & Wiltermuth, 2012).
Clearly the guards and those in the National Socialist Party had the upper hand compared to the citizens living in Germany and Poland at the time, but it is debatable as to which of the persecuted persons suffered the least damage. In cases like this, those people who are better off, have still suffered more during their time than some of the more troubled people in everyday life. Even though they suffered a lot, those people who are only exposed to physical pain, or had a majority of their pain come from their senses probably suffered the least of all. Physical pain itself is temporary whereas psychological pain can stay with people forever, hence the condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although people who experience physical pain can accurately recall how it made them felt, they have difficulty reexperiencing the pain without the presence of the stimulus. Social pain however, can be relived in which participants asked to remember a painful social experience felt more pain after talking about it than those participants that spoke about physical pain (Chen et. al, 2008). Sufferers of physical pain have the memory that it was indeed once very painful, but those who suffer from psychological pain can delve back into the memory and relive that emotion and uncomfortableness. Not only does social pain stay with the sufferers leading to endless amounts of discomfort, there is also a lack of reason towards their pain. Whereas physical pain has a tangible cause and there is evidence of suffering (Williams & Zardo, 2001). People experiencing social pain, especially social exclusion merely want attention, even if it is negative, something that they many times do not receive (James, 1950).
Even with these staggering differences, these two types of pain are similar in structure. Research has been done into the topic and new technology has found that the dorsal anterior cingulated cortex (dACC) and right ventral pre-frontal cortex become activated after Cyberball (Eisenberger et. al, 2003). Those two regions are well known for their role in pain and the unpleasant feelings associated with it. Some scientists argue for Pain Overlap Theory, even though the two types of pain are processed through the same circuits now, it may just be that social pain came second and instead of being processed separately, it was easier to just be processed similarly (Eisenberger et. al, 2003). Not only do the brain processes overlap when dealing with different types of pain, the psychological responses are also similar. Social pain in the form of ostracism has been shown to lower self esteem, sense of belonging, control and meaningful existence as well as resulting in feelings of being ignored (Kelly, McDonald, & Rushby, 2012). Physical pain has also shown the same results (Riva, Wirth & Williams, 2011). In addition, just like knowing someone else has injured themselves, it does not lessen the psychological pain to be excluded with another person. Even though others are usually comforting and one would assume they would buffer the lonliness felt from ostracism, that is not necessarily the case (van Beest et. al, 2012).
Although the body processes the numerous types of pain in the world in the same region of the brain, the lasting effects of the types of pain are different. Social pain is seen to be more painful and longer lasting than that of physical pain. There are not many ways that have been shown to buffer the effect of social exclusion, whereas there are many ways in which is is worsened. Since people do not know that physical and emotional pain are almost one and the same, they would not think to take pain medication to relieve their suffering. Not very many people who lived through the Holocaust and participated in the Second World War can be considered lucky, but there are differing degrees of suffering. Those that mainly suffered from physical pain, would have had the least amount of problems because they can be explained away. Those people experiencing psychological pain, may not understand their suffering, so it seems to be to a higher degree than physical pain. Those people who were unlucky enough to suffer from both during the war and live through it, would have had the most problems adjusting afterwards. Not only in war, but in everyday life, people are living in constant pain, and unfortunately in some cases, others can not tell.
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