If you think you tend to feel better when your partner squeezes your hand or gives you a little snuggle, there could be some new science to back you up on that claim. And it’s all thanks to some scientists who dug into the effects of the human touch on pain.
Dr. Pavel Goldstein, from the University of Colorado, realized that the only thing he could really do when his wife was giving birth was to hold her hand during the tough labour process. And lo and behold, it worked. She felt comforted and her pain seemed to decrease slightly, so he decided to conduct further research and see if a) that’s true for everyone and b) if there was a scientific explanation as to why.
In total, Goldstein and fellow researchers gathered 22 heterosexual couples aged 23-32 and inflicted pain (a small burning sensation) on each female’s arm. Men were then told to either hold their partner’s hand or refrain from doing so altogether. Not-so-surprisingly, the women who had their hands held reported lower overall levels of pain.
“It could be that touch is a tool for communicating empathy, resulting in an analgesic, or pain-killing, effect,” said Goldstein, whose earlier research indicated a clear connection between increased empathy and less pain.
To be fair, most of us appreciate being comforted in times of need — that’s probably why we instinctually hold other people’s hands or give them a hug when they’re sad or hurting. But these scientists also found an actual area in the brain that seemed to be affected by the human touch. It’s the same area that’s associated overall with pain, empathy and heart function. When a female was physically comforted by her partner, that area of the brain was affected too.
There’s still no word on whether or not a broken heart is an actual scientific thing, mind you.
Of course, this sample is pretty small, and only females were tested, which means it may be too early to draw any real conclusions. But there’s no denying that there’s a physiological need for humans to be around one another, so the fact that our brains may be stimulated or comforted by human touch doesn’t seem like such a long shot.
So go ahead and give your partner a hug or hold hands the next time you’re walking down the street. It’s not cliche or PDA; it’s science.