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Pain. 2008 May;136(1-2):168-76. Epub 2007 Sep 5.

Empathy hurts: compassion for another increases both sensory and affective components of pain perception.

Author information

1
McGill Centre for Research on Pain, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Abstract

Recent studies demonstrate that some brain structures activated by pain are also engaged when an individual observes someone else in pain, and that these empathy-related responses are modulated as a function of the affective link between the empath and the individual in pain. In this study we test the hypothesis that empathy-evoked activation in the pain network leads to heightened pain perception. After inducing in half of our subjects a state of high empathy for an actor and in the other half a state of low empathy towards him, we measured the sensitivity to heat stimuli of various intensities in healthy participants while they watched the actor being exposed to similar stimuli. Participants in the "high-empathy" group rated painful (but not non-painful) stimuli applied to themselves as more intense and unpleasant than did those in the "low-empathy" group. Positive correlations between state empathy scores and pain ratings further suggest that this perceptual phenomenon depends on the magnitude of empathic response induced in the participants. The effects were observed when subjects watched the model receiving either neutral or painful stimuli, suggesting that it is empathy itself that alters pain perception, and not necessarily the observation of pain behaviors.

PMID:
17822850
DOI:
10.1016/j.pain.2007.07.017
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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