Observation of others’ painful heat stimulation involves responses in the spinal cord
© Alain Schroeder/ONOKY/Getty Images
Watching someone else experience pain from touching something hot stimulates a similar spinal-cord reaction as experiencing that pain ourselves.
The direct experience of pain sends sensory signals from the spinal cord to the brain but also alters the spinal cord as part of learning from that experience. Previous studies have suggested that we even learn from second-hand experiences of pain, and that learning is encoded in spinal-cord reflexes.
Now, by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers from the University of Hamburg have documented similar responses in the spinal cords of volunteers who had direct exposure to painful heat and those who watched a video of someone else grimacing in response to painful heat. However, the first-hand and second-hand responses were processed in different regions of the spinal cord.
The findings suggest a mechanism by which we learn to avoid danger by seeing the effects on others.
- Science Advances 7, eabe8444 (2021). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abe8444
|University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), UHH, Germany||0.67|
|Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPICBS), Germany||0.33|