Benign Masochism

Benign Masochism


Some people enjoy hot spicy foods, extreme sports, depressing music due to benign masochism. They feel a sense of pleasure from initially negative experiences that our brain falsely interprets as threatening.


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Benign masochism is defined as “enjoying initially negative experiences that the body (brain) falsely interprets as threatening,” according to “Glad to Be Sad,” a paper that explores the theory, published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making. In it, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Paul Rozin coined the term, explaining it more fully as “this realization that the body has been fooled, and that there is no real danger, leads to pleasure derived from ‘mind over body.’”

Researchers say benign masochism stems from the pleasure derived when a combination of positive and negative feelings are felt in response to a threat that is considered benign, such as a spicy pepper, a sad song, a funky smell, or a horror movie. The “conflict” that arises when these positive and negative emotions occur simultaneously is what gives rise to the desire to keep indulging in the activity, according to the paper.

For something to be deemed benign masochism, the activity at hand needs to incite so little negative emotion as to be tolerable; if the negative emotion reaches or surpasses into intolerable, it won’t be worthy of being indulged in, researchers say. In the paper, Rozin and colleagues identified 29 activities related to sadness, fear, disgust that would incite pleasure or a “hedonic reversal” in people. These included watching sad movies or listening to sad music, eating spicy foods, pinching pimples, going on roller coasters, getting a deep tissue massage, or being physically exhausted.


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