Researchers reveal that greater the empathy shown by a partner to comfort the other, synchronizes their brain waves, according to an article published on March 1, 2018.
A team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and University of Haifa discovered that when one partner shows more empathy towards another partner in pain, the brainwaves of both turn more in sync, resulting in reduced pain.
“We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world and we have fewer physical interactions. This paper illustrates the power and importance of human touch.” said Pavel Goldstein, lead author of the study.
This is one of the first studies of its kind exploring a phenomenon known as interpersonal synchronization. This phenomenon describes how people physiologically mirror those they are with. Scientists have never before studied synchronization of brainwaves in the context to pain.
“I wanted to test it out in the lab: Can one really decrease pain with touch, and if so, how?”
Pavel and colleagues recruited 22 heterosexual couples, aged between 23 and 32 years, who were together for at least a year. They were put through several two-minute scenarios, while electroencephalography (EEG) caps measured their brainwave activity. The scenarios included sitting together not touching, sitting together holding hands, and sitting in separate rooms.
The experiment included inducing mild heat to the arm of the woman, when her partner was in the same room as her, with or without touching, brain wave synchronicity in the alpha mu band was observed. This wavelength is associated with focused attention. When the same couple held hands while the woman was in pain, the coupling increased the most. It was also found that when the woman was in pain and when her partner couldn’t touch her hand to provide comfort, the coupling of their brain waves diminished.