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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
Monday, February 19, 2007
We're 'wired to connect,' MGH research shows
We know what it feels like to sense a connection with another person. It's called empathy.
But researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to measure biologically the experience we have when we feel understood and connected with somebody. They studied interactions between patients and their psychotherapists, whose job is to be empathetic.
Using skin sensors that measure arousal and observers' reactions to videotaped therapy sessions, they found that the more therapists and patients felt the same, the more connected they seemed to be and positive about the relationship. The study appears in the February Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases.
"When we feel like we are really connected, we literally are in tune with others," said Dr. Carl D. Marci, director of social neuroscience at Mass. General. "This supports brain imaging data that shows humans are literally 'wired to connect' emotionally."
The 20 patient-therapist sessions suggested that shared positive emotions and shared physiological responses create an empathetic connection.
How therapists engage with their patients can play a huge role in the outcome of therapy, Marci said, so these findings can help therapists do a better job.
One other factor was important: Patients and therapists seemed more in tune when the therapist was listening.
"It's very hard to be empathetic when you are talking," he said. "Talking is engaging an altogether different part of the brain to think about what you are saying. You sort of shut down or dampen this emotional response we have."