Your Pain, My Brain

Feeling another person's pain. Why we react to the suffering of others.

By Erik Strand, published on July 1, 2003 - last reviewed on November 15, 2007

When something hurts you, I feel it too. So suggests research
by Sean Mackey, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Stanford University, who
discovered that when people see others in pain, they show patterns of
brain activation similar to patterns observed when they themselves are
suffering.

Researchers scanned the brains of 14 subjects while they watched
videos of people being injured in situations such as car crashes and
sport events. The same subjects' brains were studied as researchers
placed a painfully hot instrument on their arms. A comparison of the
scans revealed that areas of the brain responsible for processing sensory
and emotional aspects of pain were activated.

Mackey suggests this overlap represents a neurological expression
of empathy, which may serve to bind people socially.