The next time you’re feeling in pain, skip the trip to the chemist and reach for the hand of your loved one. That’s the advice from new research fresh out of the University of Colorado Boulder. The paper supports a growing field of research into ‘interpersonal synchronisation’, a theory that suggests we take on the characteristics and physiological functioning of our partners.
"We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world and we have fewer physical interactions," said Pavel Goldstein, a postdoctoral pain researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University. "This paper illustrates the power and importance of human touch."
More specifically, Goldstein’s study found that holding hands will sync your breathing patterns, heart rate, and brain waves. It is the first study of it’s kind to look at brain synchronisation and how this can affect pain through analgesia (science speak for ‘healing by touch’).
Goldstein thought of the experiment after being with his wife during childbirth. While his wife was struggling through the birth, the times when they were holding hands seemed to be the easiest for her, and he wanted to investigate if there was truth behind this.
The study of 22 couples placed participants in EEG caps to measure brainwave activity, and took measurements while the couples were in separate rooms, in the same room but not touching, and holding hands. By subjecting the female to mild heat pain, researchers were able to identify that physical touch significantly reduced the pain felt by the women.
Goldstein and the team suggest that the sense of touch promotes a shared experience, that can extend to the sharing of pain. In other words, if you can feel your partners touch, it dulls your pain receptors as your body realizes that you are not alone. "Interpersonal touch may blur the borders between self and other," Goldstein wrote. "You may express empathy for a partner's pain, but without touch it may not be fully communicated," he said.