Lending a helping hand just took on a whole new meaning.

Study findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal revealed that when two people hold hands, a powerful physiological interpersonal effect takes place.


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Researchers at CU Boulder and University of Haifa determined that holding the hand of a loved one will get your heart rate and breathing synchronized, and your brain waves will start aligning too.

And if you’re holding the hand of someone in pain to comfort them, an incredible phenomenon occurs: Your synced-up brain waves will help ease their pain.

The researchers found these physical effects to be amplified through empathy: The more empathy a person comforting another one feels, the more powerful their touch will be in terms of pain reduction.

Study methodology


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Lead author Pavel Goldstein came up with the idea of testing this in a lab while his wife was in labor. The more he held her hand during the delivery of their daughter, the less pain she felt.

He decided to put this theory to the test. Along with his fellow researchers, he recruited 22 heterosexual coupes aged between 23 to 32 who had been coupled up for at least one year, and asked them to sit together not touching, sit together while holding hands, and sit in separate rooms.

As the couples went through the scenarios, the scientists measured their brain wave activity. They then asked them to repeat the same situations, this time inflicting mild pain to the women’s arms.

Being in each other’s presence without touching did influence the coupling of participants’ brain waves, but when they held hands while the women were in pain, the synchronicity was stronger.

Furthermore, when the women were in pain but the men couldn’t touch them, the synchronization of their brains diminished. Subsequent tests also brought to light that the more empathetic the men were to their partners’ pain, the more the couple’s brain activity synced.

“Interpersonal touch may blur the borders between self and other,” the researchers wrote.

Improve your relationships


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So what is a takeaway that you can apply to your relationships starting now? Don’t underestimate the importance of interpersonal skills that are often perceived as “soft.”

When it comes to feeling connected and having each other’s back, demonstrating empathy and touching a loved one in a caring way can go a long way.

Plus, even with the best intentions, supporting each other is not only about being there and saying nice things, but it’s also about truly feeling empathy and showing it through physical expressions of affection.