“Doctors have learned through their training and practice to keep a detached perspective; without such a mechanism, performing their practice could be overwhelming or distressing, and as a consequence impair their ability to be of assistance for their patients” said Jean Decety, Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago.
Previous research has shown that the neural circuit that registers pain, is activated if a person sees another person in pain. The response in this circuit, which includes the anterior insula, periaqueducal gray and anterior cigulate cortex, is automatic and may reflect a panic response developed evolutionally as a means of avoiding danger. The research team shows for the first time that people can learn to control that automatic response.
The research was performed with a group of 14 physicians and 14 people with no experience in acupuncture. Brain responses were recorded with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as the individuals looked at short video-clips in which people were pricked with acupuncture needles in their mouth regions, hands, and feet, or were touched with Q-tips.
Among the control group, the scan showed that the pain circuit, which comprises somatosensory cortex, anterior insula, periaqueducal gray and anterior cigulate cortex, was activated when members of that group saw someone touch with a needle but not activated when the person was touched with a Q-tip.
Physicians registered no increase in activity in the portion of the brain related to pain, whether they saw an image of someone stuck with a needle or touched with a Q-tip. However, the physicians, unlike the control group, did register an increase in activity in the frontal areas of the brain--the medial and superior prefrontal cortices and the right tempororparietal junction. That is the neural circuit that is related to emotion regulation and cognitive control.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Chicago