Reach for the hand of a loved one in pain and not only will your breathing and heart rate synchronize with theirs, your brainwave patterns will couple up too, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Researchers with the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) and the University of Haifa, Israel, found that the more empathy a comforting partner feels for a partner in pain, the more their brainwaves fall into sync. And the more those brainwaves sync, the more the pain goes away.
This is the first study to look at brainwave synchronization in the context of pain, and it offers new insight into the role brain-to-brain coupling may play in touch-induced analgesia, or healing touch.
Lead author Pavel Goldstein, PhD, of CU Boulder, came up with the idea for the study after he discovered that when he held his wife’s hand, it eased her pain during the delivery of their daughter.
“I wanted to test it out in the lab: Can one really decrease pain with touch, and if so, how?”
The takeaway for now, Pavel said: Don’t underestimate the power of a hand-hold.
“You may express empathy for a partner’s pain, but without touch it may not be fully communicated,” he said.
This article was adapted from information provided by CU Boulder.