Researchers have found that the passive presence of a romantic partner can reduce pain and that partner empathy may buffer affective distress during pain exposure.
The study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain, confirmed the analgesic effects of social support - even without verbal or physical contact.
The research team assessed sensitivity to pressure pain in 48 heterosexual couples with each participant tested alone and in the passive presence of their partner.
Dispositional empathy was quantified by a questionnaire.
In the presence, as compared to the absence, of their partners both men and women exhibited higher pain thresholds and tolerance as well as lower sensory and affective pain ratings on constant pressure stimuli.
Partner empathy was positively associated with pain tolerance and inversely associated with sensory pain experience.
"Repeatedly, talking and touching have been shown to reduce pain, but our research shows that even the passive presence of a romantic partner can reduce it and that partner empathy may buffer affective distress during pain exposure," said Stefan Duschek, Professor at UMIT in Austria.