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The World in Medicine
March 17, 2004

Pain and the Brain

JAMA. 2004;291(11):1313. doi:10.1001/jama.291.11.1313-b

Humans may be hard-wired to experience empathy, according to a new study by researchers in England. Using neuroimaging techniques to eavesdrop on the brain, Tania Singer, PhD, and colleagues at University College of London discovered that seeing a loved one in pain activates some of the same brain areas that are mobilized when we experience pain ourselves (Science. 2004;303:1157-1162) .

In a study of 16 male-female couples, the investigators attached electrodes designed to deliver painful stimulation (resembling a needle prick) to the right hand. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to determine which areas of the brain were activated when the woman received a painful stimulus, when she was signaled that she was about to be zapped, and when she saw a signal that her partner was receiving the painful stimulus.

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