For Pain Relief, Join Hands

For Pain Relief, Join Hands


Reach out and touch your loved one, suggests a new study.

When you’re a preteen, holding hands is the epitome of romantic love. Public affection! Woah. A new study finds that there is good reason to hold hands with loved ones, far beyond middle school.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is part of a growing interest in science in “interpersonal synchronization.” That is when one person’s brain waves synch up with that of another person’s. Woah indeed. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Haifa have found that holding the hand of a loved one will synch up the couple’s brain waves, and if one partner is in pain and the other having empathy, the more their brain waves matched, providing pain relief.

The lead author of the study, Pavel Goldstein, is a postdoctoral pain researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at CU Bolder. He was inspired to do this study after he experienced labor and delivery with his wife. He noticed that while the couple’s daughter was being born, it seemed to ease his wife’s pain when he held her hand. “I wanted to test it out in the lab,” he wrote in the study. “Can one really decrease pain with touch, and if so, how?”

He and his colleagues studied 22 heterosexual couples who had been together at least one year. Using EEG caps, the couples were studied when sitting together but not touching; sitting together and holding hands; and sitting in entirely different rooms. They also did the experiment again, with the woman getting mild heat pain on her arm. Interestingly, simply being in the same room as the partner caused some brain wave synchronicity. If the couple held hands while the woman was experiencing pain, their brain waves matched even more closely. “It appears that pain totally interrupts this interpersonal synchronization between couples and touch brings it back,” wrote Goldstein.

The researchers are not sure why the brain coupling diminishes pain, and further research on that is needed, as well as research into same-sex partnerships and non-romantic connections. But, the scientists wrote, "This paper illustrates the power and importance of human touch.” Don’t underestimate the power of reaching out your hand and holding on to your loved one.

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