Pain can be Contagious: Study

First Posted: May 10, 2013 06:25 AM EDT

The pain of another can be experienced by some people just by witnessing their anguish, according to a news release.

Researchers from Monash University looked into this phenomenon, known as somatic contagion, which is present in one in three people, who could feel pain by watching others experience pain.

In this study, they identified two groups of people who were prone to this response: one group of individuals who experience pain after a trauma or injury such as amputation or chronic pain, and the second group that experienced the condition from birth, mostly known as the congenital variant.

The study was led by Dr. Melita Giummarra from the School of Psychology and Psychiatry, and was presented at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists' annual scientific meeting in Melbourne.

According to Dr. Guimmarra, in a few cases, some people have experienced severe painful sensations just by witnessing another person's pain. This study differentiates between the two groups of somatic contagion.

"While the congenital variant appears to involve a blurring of the boundary between self and other, with heightened empathy, acquired somatic contagion involves reduced empathic concern for others, but increased personal distress," Dr. Giummarra said in a press statement. "This suggests that the pain triggered corresponds to a focus on their own pain experience rather than that of others."

The study explains that, most often on witnessing pain, people experience an emotional discomfort. The neuroimaging studies have linked this experience to activation of parts of the brain that are connected with personal experiences of pain.

In some, the pain he/she 'absorbs' reflects the location and site of the pain in the other person he is observing, and is mostly localised.

'The Empathy for Pain Scale', developed by Dr. Giummarra, categorizes the reactions people have on witnessing pain in others that is also sensitive to somatic contagion.

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