Women feel less pain if they hold their partner’s hand

It is a good reason for women to take their husband into the labour ward when they give birth.

Holding the hand of someone you love can help with pain and make it hurt less.

Women given their partner’s hand to hold experienced half the amount of pain they did when left alone, after scientists passed hot water through a tube in their hand. 

It is believed touching someone you love provides a ‘reward’ in the brain which makes the pain easier to bear.

A study of 20 couples also found women holding a man’s hand during a painful experience like childbirth may get more sympathy. 

Holding the hand of someone you love can help with pain and make it hurt less, experts say

Men who held a woman’s hand while she was burned with hot water were better able to guess how much it hurt.

The secret is believed to be that touch synchronises a couple’s brains, so they undergo a painful experience in a similar way. 

That empathy from a partner may be why women holding hands may experience less agony.

The study’s lead author, Dr Pavel Goldstein, from the University of Colorado, said: ‘I got the idea for this study in the delivery room when my daughter Emily was born. Hand-holding was very helpful for my wife.

‘We found two people’s brains synchronise when they were holding hands, which can have an analgesic effect when one is suffering pain. It may be that empathy is transferred through touch.’


Simply imagining something to be less painful may ease your experience of it, research from the Netherlands suggested earlier this month.

The theory relies on the placebo effect that explains someone’s experience is shaped by expectations – so if you imagine that something won’t hurt, it just may not.

Through visualization exercises, the researchers found that experiment participants could, to some extent, control how painful their experiences were.

The study author hoped that her work in healthy people could be applied to patients to help ease their suffering through chronic pain and other conditions.

The scientists subjected women to the pain and made men the observers, as women have been shown to benefit more from social support.

In some experiments the women were not exposed to pain, or they received pain in a room separate to their partner, while sitting not touching their partner or while holding hands.

Women asked to rate their pain from zero to 100 gave ratings 52 per cent lower after holding hands than if they were separated from their partner.

Their partners, also asked to rate the female’s pain from zero to 100, were more accurate after holding their hand.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, follows evidence that skin-to-skin touch can reduce babies’ pain during medical procedures and adults’ anxiety and blood pressure in reaction to stress.

It states: ‘Our findings indicate that hand-holding during pain administration increases brain-to-brain coupling in a network that mainly involves the central regions of the pain target and the right hemisphere of the brain observer.’

Couples whose brain activity, measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG), was most similar, were most likely to see the woman experience less pain and the man have more empathy.

The study also involved scientists from the University of Haifa and the Pasteur Institute in France.

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