Ken Wilbur once wrote in The Spectrum of Consciousness that for every knot in the mind, there is a corresponding knot in the body. When we get a massage, give someone a hug, or offer a loving touch to our romantic partners, a new study has now proven that this physical exchange can ease pain. It’s so powerful that just the touch of a loved one can reduce pain even during childbirth or a major surgery.
This astounding phenomenon happens because of something called “interpersonal synchronization” – a fancy term that describes neural plasticity and mirror neurons in our brains. We naturally begin to mirror the physiological state of someone we are with, and since our romantic partners often look at us with eyes of love, their touch can cause a mirroring effect in our own physiologies, reducing pain and discomfort.
The study was conducted with 22 couples to determine how people subconsciously sync their brains and bodies. Before now, scientists assumed that these two things were separate, but not only are our own brains and bodies synced, we also sync with people around us.
Recent studies have shown how people’s heart rates and breathing will sync when they meditate, or even watch a movie together, and other studies have shown how we will change our walking pattern subconsciously to keep step with a person we are with. This new research proves that just being in the presence of someone we love, our cardiorespiratory and brainwave patterns start to move into synchrony.
Studies have also demonstrated how lots of non-sexual touch is also critical to sustaining a long-term relationship. But why? Does physical touch do more than rekindle a lack-luster romance?
A by-product of this physiological orchestration is that the partner in pain feels less of it. And there’s a critical distinction the researchers made – in partners with high empathy for one another, the analgesic effect of their touch was even more profound.
The researchers explain,
“Collectively, the evidence indicates that social touch increases interpersonal physiological coupling during pain. Furthermore, the effects of touch on cardio-respiratory inter-partner coupling may contribute to the analgesic effects of touch via the autonomic nervous system.”
Those knots in your shoulders and aches and pains in your muscles may not be a match for a simple hug or loving touch from someone you love.