Why Pain Can Be Pleasurable

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Why should irritating spices be our favorites? Psychologist Paul Rozin has proposed a couple of different explanations. Perhaps spicy foods are the edible equivalent of riding a rollercoaster or jumping into Lake Michigan in January, an example of “constrained risk” that sets off uncomfortable warning signals in the body. But since the situations are not truly dangerous, we can ignore the normal meaning of these sensations and savor the vertigo, shock, and pain for their own sakes. The sensation of pain may also cause the brain to release natural pain-relieving body chemicals that leave a pleasant glow when the burning fades.