Interbrain Coupling During Handholding Associated With Analgesia, Empathy
Couples holding hands during the noxious stimulus displayed higher empathic accuracy and lower pain levels compared with couples not holding hands.
Interbrain coupling of areas implicated in pain processing may be enhanced when romantic partners hold hands while 1 of the 2 is subjected to pain, according to a first-of-its-kind study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.1
Few studies to date have examined analgesic benefits associated with nonmassage touch in people. In a 2015 article published in Pain, high-powered laser pulses were used to selectively activate dermal Aδ and C nociceptors on the hand of participants, thus producing pricking and burning pain, respectively and sequentially.2
Touch, a tactile stimulus delivered using 0.4 mm von Frey hairs along an axis intersecting with the laser stimulus, was found to reduce the amplitude of both Aδ- and C-laser-evoked potentials, indicating inhibition of the initial ascending nociceptive input. 2
In addition, coupling laser with touch vs laser alone led to a reduction of the magnitude of the "laser blink reflex," a marker of subcortical nociceptive processing, indicating touch-induced inhibition of nociceptive input. 2
In another study using laser-evoked noxious stimuli coupled or not with pleasant touch administered to skin devoid of C nociceptive fibers (palm of the hand), individuals with high vs low attachment anxiety reported higher laser-evoked pain levels.3 The opposite was observed when the noxious stimulus was delivered to a dermal region containing unmyelinated C fibers.3 "[C fiber tactile]-based affective touch can modulate pain in early and late processing stages...with the direction of effects depending on attachment style," concluded the authors of this study. 3
- Goldstein P, Weissman-fogel I, Dumas G, Shamay-tsoory SG. Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2018;115(11):E2528-E2537.
- Mancini F, Beaumont AL, Hu L, Haggard P, Iannetti GD, Iannetti GD. Touch inhibits subcortical and cortical nociceptive responses. Pain. 2015;156(10):1936-1944.
- Krahé C, Drabek MM, Paloyelis Y, Fotopoulou A. Affective touch and attachment style modulate pain: a laser-evoked potentials study. Philos Trans R Soc Lond, B, Biol Sci. 2016;371(1708):20160009.
- Tait RC. Empathy: necessary for effective pain management? Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2008;12(2):108-112.
- Perry A, Bentin S, Bartal IB, Lamm C, Decety J. "Feeling" the pain of those who are different from us: Modulation of EEG in the mu/alpha range. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2010;10(4):493-504.