The perception of pain is impacted by social, emotional, and psychological factors as well as biological ones, and these factors can all affect one another. Skin-to-skin touch—a clearly social phenomenon—is known to alleviate pain. What is not quite known is how.A touch of pain
The Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University of Haifa decided to find out. A team of researchers there designed an experiment in which 20 heterosexual romantic couples were recruited for a study on pain perception. The couples were exposed to six different conditions: holding hands when the woman was subjected to pain and when she wasn’t, just being together but not holding hands when the woman was subjected to pain and when she wasn’t, and being in separate rooms when the woman was subjected to pain and when she wasn’t.
During all conditions, the partners’ brains were simultaneously scanned so the researchers could assess the relationship between brain coupling, pain perception in the suffering partner, and empathy in the observing partner. This simultaneous scanning of individuals while they interact is a pretty new thing and a pretty big deal.