A new study “Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction” says that holding your loved one’s hand during difficult times will synchronize your breathing, heart rate, and brain wave patterns, and ultimately ease your pain. Additionally, the more empathy your partner has for you, the more in sync your brainwaves will become, and the more relief you will feel.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder collaborated with researchers from the University of Haifa to conduct this study and make this interesting discovery, which shows just how important physical interaction is. “We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world and we have fewer physical interactions. This paper illustrates the power and importance of human touch,” explained Pavel Goldstein, lead author of the study and postdoctoral pain researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at CU Boulder.

Goldstein decided to explore the idea of a “healing touch” just after his daughter was born. According to Neuroscience News, he said that holding his wife’s hand appeared to ease her pain significantly. “I wanted to test it out in the lab: Can one really decrease pain with touch, and if so, how?” Goldstein found support in his colleagues and went on to conduct a few experiments, which ultimately yielded significant findings.

The researchers recruited 22 heterosexual couples, between the ages of 23 and 32, who’d been dating for at least a year, and put them through a series of two-minute scenarios while EEG caps measured their brainwaves. In one scenario, the couples sat together but didn’t touch; in another, they sat together while holding hands; and in a third, they sat in completely separate rooms. Then, they repeated each scenario a second time, but while the woman was exposed to mild heat pain on one arm.

Regardless of whether or not the pairs were touching, the EEGs showed that just being near one another was associated with brain wave synchronicity in the alpha mu band—a wavelength associated with focused attention. And when a couple did touch while the female partner was in pain, this synchronicity was at its strongest. Furthermore, the researchers found that when the female partner was in pain and her partner couldn’t console her with touch, this synchronicity weakened.

When the researchers narrowed in on the male partner’s level of empathy, they made an additional discovery: the more empathetic he was to her pain, the more in sync their brainwaves. “It appears that pain totally interrupts this interpersonal synchronization between couples and touch brings it back,” Goldstein concluded. He later added that “interpersonal touch may blur the borders between self and other.”

University of Colorado at Boulder (2018, March 1). Holding Hands Can Sync Brainwaves and Ease Pain. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved March 1, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/holding-hands-brainwaves-pain-8584/

Goldstein, P., Weissman-Fogel, I., Dumas, Guillaume, D., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2018, February 26). Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction. PNAS. Retrieved on March 1, 2018 from http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/02/16/1703643115