Research Findings: My Brain Says I Hurt Too When You are Hurting

PureInsight | April 14, 2003

( New research suggests that people do not just feel bad for you when they see you hurt--their brains actually react in ways that overlap their reactions when they are hurt themselves.

As reported at the March annual meeting of the American Pain Society held in Chicago, researchers at Stanford University in California obtained their findings from studying brain activity in 14 people while they watched videos of other people being hurt, such as clips of sporting injuries or car crashes. The authors found that similar areas of the brain were activated both when people watched another person getting hurt and when they, themselves, experienced modest pain during a subsequent experiment in which their forearms were subjected to heated blocks.

"What we found in this study is that there is a common overlap in the way that we, as humans, perceive pain, as well as how we perceive pain in other people when they are hurt," study author Dr. Sean Mackey told Reuters Health.

Mackey explained that there are two components to the pain sensation. One is the sensory component that reports the location and type of sensation. The other is a subjective, emotional, component that judges how bad the pain is. There were overlaps in both components of the pain sensations observed and experienced by the subjects.

This physiological analogue of empathy, in which others' pain is felt as our own, could play an important role in society. If we better understand what other people are feeling then we can better respond to their distress and feel more impetus to stop or remove them from its source.

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