It's common to grimace at the mere sight of a person cut his finger while chopping vegetables or accidentally hit his thumb with a hammer. A new study by scientists from Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences have revealed that saying 'I know how you feel' literally holds true as we can actually feel others' pain.
According to experts, whether the pain is personally experienced or empathetic, the same brain structures, the anterior insula and cingulate cortex, are activated, and so, even if a person doesn't experience the injury themselves, they still experience similar symptoms to the person actually going through the pain.
‘Whether the pain is personally experienced or empathetic, the same brain structures, the anterior insula and cingulate cortex, are activated.’
Neuroscientist Anita Tusche said, "The fact that our brain processes pain and other unpleasant events simultaneously for the most part, no matter if they are experienced by us or someone else, is very important for social interactions because it helps to us understand what others are experiencing."
Researchers compared brain activation patterns during both personally experienced and empathetic pain and demonstrated for the first time that during painful experiences, the anterior insula region and cingulate cortex process both general components and specific pain information. Those components also occur during other negative experiences, such as disgust or indignation. They signal that an experience is actually unpleasant and not joyful.
The study is published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.