If your partner is in pain, the simple act of holding hands will help ease his or her suffering. Holding hands syncs up people’s heart rates and brain wave patterns. The more empathy someone feels for their partner, the more their brain waves connect, which helps the pain go away, according to a study published the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world and we have fewer physical interactions,” said lead author Pavel Goldstein, a postdoctoral pain researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder (via ScienceDaily). “This paper illustrates the power and importance of human touch.”
Known as “interpersonal synchronization,” this phenomenon has merited increasing examination by researchers. They’re studying why people are able to physiologically mimic one another in this manner. This study is the first to examine brainwave synchronization, its effect on pain, and the healing touch.
Goldstein has the first-hand experience with the phenomenon. He discovered his wife’s pain lessened when he held her hand following the birth of their daughter.
He and a team from the University of Haifa measured the brainwave activity of 22 heterosexual couples ages 23 to 32 who had been together for at least one year. The couple were exposed to several situations in which they sat together and did not touch, sat together and held hands, and sat in different rooms. They repeated the scenarios with the woman being exposed to mild heat pain on her arm.
The researchers found that just being in one another’s presence with or without touch synchronized the brain waves at some level. If they held hands while the woman was in pain, the brain-to-brain coupling increased even more. If the woman was in pain and her partner couldn’t touch her, the brain wave coupling decreased.
“It appears that pain totally interrupts this interpersonal synchronization between couples, and touch brings it back,” noted Goldstein.
And the more empathetic a male was to his partner’s pain, the more their brain waves synced and the more her pain receded.
Goldstein and his colleagues believe empathetic touch makes an individual feel understood, thus igniting painkilling functions in the brain. They stress that further research needs to be done to find the relationship between brain activity and an empathetic partner.