Project

The role of touch in regulating inter-partner physiological coupling during empathy for pain

Goal: The human ability to synchronize with other individuals is critical for the development of social behavior. Recent research has shown that physiological inter-personal synchronization may underlie behavioral synchrony. Nevertheless, the factors that modulate physiological coupling are still largely unknown. Here we suggest that social touch and empathy for pain may enhance interpersonal physiological coupling. Twenty-two romantic couples were assigned the roles of target (pain receiver) and observer (pain observer) under pain/no-pain and touch/no-touch conditions, and their ECG and respiration rates were recorded. The results indicate that the partner touch increased interpersonal respiration coupling under both pain and no-pain conditions and increased heart rate coupling under pain conditions. In addition, physiological coupling was diminished by pain in the absence of the partner's touch. Critically, we found that high partner's empathy and high levels of analgesia enhanced coupling during the partner's touch. Collectively, the evidence indicates that social touch increases interpersonal physiological coupling during pain. Furthermore, the effects of touch on cardio-respiratory inter-partner coupling may contribute to the analgesic effects of touch via the autonomic nervous system.

Updates
0 new
3
Recommendations
0 new
0
Followers
0 new
35
Reads
0 new
340

Project log

Irit Weissman Fogel
added a project reference
Pavel Goldstein
added an update
Pavel Goldstein
added a research item
Unlabelled: Previous studies have provided evidence for pain-alleviating effects of segmental tactile stimulation, yet the effect of social touch and its underlying mechanism is still unexplored. Considering that the soma affects the way we think, feel, and interact with others, it has been proposed that touch may communicate emotions, including empathy, interacting with the identity of the toucher. Thus, the goal of the current study was to examine the analgesic effects of social touch, and to test the moderating role of the toucher's empathy in analgesia using an ecological paradigm. Tonic heat stimuli were administered to women. Concurrently, their partners either watched or touched their hands, a stranger touched their hands, or no one interacted with them. The results revealed diminished levels of pain during partners' touch compared with all other control conditions. Furthermore, taking into account the dyadic interaction, only during the touch condition we found 1) a significant relationship between the partners' pain ratings, and 2) a significant negative relationship between the male touchers' empathy and the pain experience of their female partners. The findings highlight the powerful analgesic effect of social touch and suggest that empathy between romantic partners may explain the pain-alleviating effects of social touch. Perspective: Pain research mostly concentrates on different factors around a single pain target, without taking into account various social interactions with the observers. Our findings support the idea that pain perception models should be extended, taking into account some psychological characteristics of observers. Our conclusions are on the basis of advanced statistical methods.
Pavel Goldstein
added a project goal
The human ability to synchronize with other individuals is critical for the development of social behavior. Recent research has shown that physiological inter-personal synchronization may underlie behavioral synchrony. Nevertheless, the factors that modulate physiological coupling are still largely unknown. Here we suggest that social touch and empathy for pain may enhance interpersonal physiological coupling. Twenty-two romantic couples were assigned the roles of target (pain receiver) and observer (pain observer) under pain/no-pain and touch/no-touch conditions, and their ECG and respiration rates were recorded. The results indicate that the partner touch increased interpersonal respiration coupling under both pain and no-pain conditions and increased heart rate coupling under pain conditions. In addition, physiological coupling was diminished by pain in the absence of the partner's touch. Critically, we found that high partner's empathy and high levels of analgesia enhanced coupling during the partner's touch. Collectively, the evidence indicates that social touch increases interpersonal physiological coupling during pain. Furthermore, the effects of touch on cardio-respiratory inter-partner coupling may contribute to the analgesic effects of touch via the autonomic nervous system.