Are human brains hardwired to feel others’ pain?
Perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of being human is our empathy or the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. With that, a new study is finding that our brains may actually be hardwired to feel pain for those close to us, like a spouse or a friend. Researchers say this is because we closely associate those people with ourselves.
“With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” study author James Coan, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, said in a university news release. “The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar. The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”
Dr. Cheryl Borst, psychologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill., says this is likely because humans need to have friends who they can relate to and see as being the same as themselves.
“If a friend is in pain, it becomes the same as if we are in pain our self,” Dr. Borst says. “As people spend more time together, they become more similar. We can understand the pain or difficulty they may be going through in the same way we understand our own pain.”
Dr. Borst explains it is essentially a breakdown of self and other. In a close relationship, our sense of self eventually comes to include the people we become closest to.
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