Reach for the hands of a loved one in pain and not only will your heart and breathing rate synchronise with theirs, your brain wave patterns will pair up also, according to a study published this week at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
We’ve developed a great deal of approaches to communicate in today’s world and we have fewer physical connections. This paper illustrates the significance and power of human touch.
The study is the most recent in a growing body of research exploring a phenomenon called “social synchronization,” where individuals physiologically mirror the people they’re with. It’s the first to examine brain wave synchronization in the context of pain and provides new insight into the function brain-to-brain coupling can play in touch-induced analgesia, or healing touch.
Goldstein created the experiment afterwards, during the delivery of his daughter, he found that when he held his wife’s hand, it eased her pain.
The University of Haifa recruited 22 heterosexual couples, ages 23 to 32 who were together for at least one year and put them through several two-minute situations as electroencephalography (EEG) caps quantified their brainwave activity. Then they repeated the situations as the woman was exposed to moderate heat pain on her arm.
Merely being in one another’s existence, with or without touch, has been associated with a few brain wave synchronicity from the alpha mu band, a wavelength associated with concentrated attention. When they held hands while she was in pain, the coupling improved the most.
Researchers also discovered that if she was in pain and he could not touch her, the coupling of the brain waves diminished. This matched the findings from a previously published paper from the exact same experiment that found that heart rate and respiratory synchronization vanished when the male study manager could not hold her hands to alleviate her pain.
It seems that pain completely interrupts this social synchronisation between couples and simple touch brings it back.
Subsequent evaluations of the male partner’s degree of compassion revealed that the more empathetic he had been to her pain the more their brain activity synced.
More studies are necessary to discover, stressed Goldstein. However he and his co-authors provide a few possible explanations. Empathetic touch can make someone feel understood, which subsequently — based on previous studies — can activate pain-killing reward mechanisms in the mind.
Societal touch could blur the boundaries between self and other.
The study didn’t explore whether the exact same effect would happen with same-sex partners, or what happens in other types of relationships. The takeaway for the time being, Pavel said: Do not underestimate the power of a hand-hold.