couple holding hands during pregnancy health check couple holding hands during pregnancy health check Listen up guys, here's a way to feel a little more useful in the delivery room: hold her hand. (Photo: Leonardo da / Shutterstock)

Science confirms: The healing power of touch is real

New study shows that couples' breathing and heart rates sync up, and pain decreases, when they hold hands.

Perhaps the term "magic touch" has more basis in reality than we thought.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Israel's University of Haifa found that when lovers hold hands, their heart and respiratory rates synchronize, and pain is reduced.

It's the latest scientific evidence that touching really does heal. And it could help doctors find better ways to manage patients' pain without the use of addictive opioids.

“We all know that hand-holding is important for social support, but here we show the brain mechanism for this effect,” Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a psychology professor at the University of Haifa, told Medium. “We show for the first time that brain waves are synchronized during hand-holding, and this support is effective at pain reduction.”

The Haifa team has been studying this topic since 2016, when researchers compared the effect touch — from both loved ones and strangers — and empathy had on pain levels. Two years later, they conducted another study using EEG scans to measure a couple’s brain signals while holding hands when one partner was in pain.

Pavel Goldstein, lead author of that 2018 study and a pain researcher at CU Boulder, put 22 couples through a series of tests that mimicked a delivery-room scenario. Women were subjected to mild heat pain while men were instructed to perform different roles: sitting with her without touching, sitting together holding hands and sitting in separate rooms. Goldstein and his colleagues monitored the subjects' heart and breathing while also asking the woman to rate her pain.

couple holding hands in summertime Holding hands can be more than a loving gesture, a new study says. It can also reduce pain. (Photo: 271 EAK MOTO / Shutterstock)

The researchers observed that without pain, the woman's heart rate and breathing synchronized with her partner just by sitting together. But when the pain was administered, that synchronization stopped.

But when the man took the woman's hand, the synchronization resumed, and she felt less pain.

period crampsShe could really use a hand. (Photo: Nikodash/Shutterstock)

“When we share the pain of others, basically we’re activating our brain in the same neural system that we activate when we feel firsthand experiences of pain,” says Shamay-Tsoory.


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Science confirms: The healing power of touch is real
New study shows that couples' breathing and heart rates sync up, and pain decreases, when they hold hands.