A partner’s touch relieves pain, study shows

The touch of our romantic partner helps to alleviate pain, suggest the results of a new study.
Lovers’ heartbeats and respiration patterns tend to synchronize when the partners are simply in each other’s presence. But what does the role of touch play in this synchronization, and what happens when one of the partners is experiencing pain?

Have you ever noticed that when you walk alongside your partner, your steps tend to synchronize? Or that when you speak to a close friend, you tend to adopt the same posture as them?

The scientific name for this is “behavioral synchrony,” and it refers to the human ability to sync up with other people for the sake of living in a society.

Some studies have shown that people are not only able to synchronize their behavior, but that they can also sync up their physiology.

“Interpersonal synchronization” can manifest in various ways. For example, when people watch the same movie, their brain activity synchronizes. Similarly, when lovers stare into each other’s eyes, their hearts quite literally beat as one.

New research carried out by scientists at University of Colorado (CU) Boulder explores the role of touch in driving interpersonal synchronization in the context of pain.

The team was led by Pavel Goldstein, a postdoctoral pain researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at CU Boulder, and the findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Dr. Goldstein explains what prompted his research, saying, “My wife was in pain, and all I could think was, ‘What can I do to help her?’ I reached for her hand and it seemed to help. I wanted to test it out in the lab: can one really decrease pain with touch, and if so, how?”

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