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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Mar 13;115(11):E2528-E2537. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1703643115. Epub 2018 Feb 26.

Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0345;
Department of Psychology, University of Haifa, Haifa 3498838, Israel.
Department of Statistics, University of Haifa, Haifa 3498838, Israel.
Physical Therapy Department, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, University of Haifa, Haifa 3498838, Israel.
Human Genetics and Cognitive Functions Unit, Institut Pasteur, 75015 Paris, France.
CNRS UMR3571 Genes, Synapses and Cognition, Institut Pasteur, 75015 Paris, France.
Human Genetics and Cognitive Functions, University Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, 75013 Paris, France.


The mechanisms underlying analgesia related to social touch are not clear. While recent research highlights the role of the empathy of the observer to pain relief in the target, the contribution of social interaction to analgesia is unknown. The current study examines brain-to-brain coupling during pain with interpersonal touch and tests the involvement of interbrain synchrony in pain alleviation. Romantic partners were assigned the roles of target (pain receiver) and observer (pain observer) under pain-no-pain and touch-no-touch conditions concurrent with EEG recording. Brain-to-brain coupling in alpha-mu band (8-12 Hz) was estimated by a three-step multilevel analysis procedure based on running window circular correlation coefficient and post hoc power of the findings was calculated using simulations. Our findings indicate that hand-holding during pain administration increases brain-to-brain coupling in a network that mainly involves the central regions of the pain target and the right hemisphere of the pain observer. Moreover, brain-to-brain coupling in this network was found to correlate with analgesia magnitude and observer's empathic accuracy. These findings indicate that brain-to-brain coupling may be involved in touch-related analgesia.


EEG; empathy; hyperscanning; pain; social touch

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