To the Brain, Seeing a Caress Is as Good as Getting One

In humans, the brain seems to react to other people's sensations, researchers say

FRIDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Seeing someone else being caressed causes your brain to react as strongly as if you were being caressed, researchers have found.

In the study, MRI scans were used to measure the brain activity of volunteers while they were stroked either slowly or quickly with a soft brush. Not surprisingly, the strongest brain reaction occurred when the participants were being stroked slowly, said the research team at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

However, the investigators were surprised at the results when the participants watched videos of another person being caressed.

"The aim was to understand how the brain processes information from sensual contact, and it turned out that the brain was activated just as quickly when the volunteers got to watch someone else being caressed as when they were being caressed themselves," researcher India Morrison said in a university news release. "Even when we are only watching sensual skin contact, we can experience its emotional meaning without actually feeling the touch directly."

When the participants watched a video that featured a hand caressing an inanimate object, the brain activation was not nearly as strong as when they saw another person being caressed, the researchers pointed out.

The findings "indicate that our brain is wired in such a way that we can feel and process other people's sensations, which could open up new ways of studying how we create empathy," Morrison said.

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has more on the benefits of massage.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of Gothenburg, news release, Oct. 17, 2011

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