Brain Allows Vicarious Enjoyment of Affectionate Embraces While the human brain naturally enjoys sensual caresses, it apparently reacts just as strongly to seeing another person being caressed, according to a Swedish study.

Swedish researchers from the University of Gothenburg performed MRI scans on volunteers and found being gently caressed by another person is both a physical and an emotional experience. But the way we are touched and the reaction this elicits in the brain are a science of their own.

Volunteers were given MRI scans to measure blood flow in the brain while being stroked either slowly or quickly with a soft brush. Not unexpectedly, the brain reacted most strongly to the slow strokes. More surprising results emerged when the volunteers instead watched videos of another person being caressed.

“The aim was to understand how the brain processes information from sensual contact, and it turned out that the brain was activated just as quickly when the volunteers got to watch someone else being caressed as when they were being caressed themselves,” said India Morrison, Ph.D., one of the researchers behind the study.

“Even when we are only watching sensual skin contact, we can experience its emotional meaning without actually feeling the touch directly.”

Researchers discovered increased brain activity was only associated with human caresses as comparable brain responses were not activated when the volunteers watched a video where a hand caresses an inanimate object.

Researchers believe their results show that the brain has the capacity to perceive sensations felt by other people.

“They indicate that our brain is wired in such a way that we can feel and process other people’s sensations, which could open up new ways of studying how we create empathy,” says Morrison.

“It’s important for us as people to understand the significance of different types of touch – to know whether two people are in a relationship or are about to start a fight.”

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: University of Gothenburg