Feeling The Burn: Study Shows Pain Is In The Mind - Of The Onlooker

A new study, published in the pleasant-sounding journal Pain, suggests that "I feel your pain" may be more than just a handy phrase. For some people, the pain is real.

Researchers from the UK have found that some people actually feel physical pain in response to viewing images of other people's suffering. British psychologist Dr. Stuart Derbyshire showed 123 university students videos and pictures of athletes in painful situations. The videos included clips of a soccer player breaking his leg, a tennis player twisting his ankle, and a patient getting an injection in their hand. While every student reported feeling an emotional response to the videos, a third of the participants said they actually felt twinges of pain in their own bodies.

The video that elicited the most painful responses showed a man running on a racetrack with a clearly broken leg. Students reported anything from tingling to a harsh, stabbing pain, usually in the corresponding region of the body. 10 of the "hypersensitive" students were then asked to view similar images while undergoing a functional MRI. When compared with scans from students who reported just emotional pain, only the "responder" brain scans showed activity in the region associated with handling pain. "We think this confirms that at least some people have an actual physical reaction when observing others being injured or expressing pain," Derbyshire said.

The twinges of phantom pain experienced by a third of Derbyshire's subjects could be the most primal version of empathy. According to the Daily Mail, some scientists believe the ability to feel another person's pain evolved millions of years ago as a way to help bond and "encourage our prehistoric ancestors [to] work more closely with each other."

People Who Say They "Feel Your Pain" Really Do [Daily Mail]
The Brain May Feel Other People's Pain [Reuters]