Empathy for others may actually cause physical pain
Feeling empathy for others who are experiencing emotional or social pain may also cause a person to feel physical pain, according to new research.
In the study, scientists from the International School for Advance Studies (SISSA) in Italy showed participants videos of real people, in which one person—either a player or a friend—was deliberately being excluded in a game of catch. Researchers measured the participants’ brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Researchers then conducted another experiment, in which participants or their friends received a “mildly painful” stimulus and had to witness each other’s experience.
The study’s findings, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, showed that the same region of the brain (the posterior insular cortex) was activated when the participants experienced social and physical pain. Researchers also found that the brain region was activated when the participants experienced the social or physical pain themselves, as well as when they saw a friend experiencing pain.
The findings add to previous evidence that suggests that humans can feel the pain of others. Researchers said that their study supports the theoretical model of empathy, which says that one’s representation of another person’s emotions is based on the representation of one’s own emotional experiences in similar situations.