Relief from pain is not only a measure of good health for you, but also your doctor.
A new study finds that doctors experience the same euphoria as a patient when they help relieve their pain.
“Doctors feel rewarded when they are responsible for someone’s relief,” said study author Karin Jensen, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The better they are at taking the perspective of the patient, the more reward and subjective value they will report.”
Jensen and a team of researchers at Harvard University examined the brain activity of 18 doctors who were deceived in thinking they were alleviating their patient’s pain or letting them suffer.
To make the research more authentic, doctors were given a dose of thermal pain as well as a fake electronic device that was said to relieve the pain. Researchers then monitored their brain activity using a functional resonance imaging machine that monitored each doctor’s brain activity.
Doctors were then asked to examine two patients, who were planted for the study in addition to completing a survey on how they empathized with their patients. Each doctor observed their patient during treatment through mirrors inside an fMRI scanner. Doctors then were asked to use either the fake electronic device to ease their patient’s pain or choose a control button that would result in no impact.
When the doctors saw patients relax after activating the device, the doctor’s brain activity associated with the placebo demonstrated that they felt rewarded.
Researchers found that doctors who empathized more with their patients experienced a more rewarding feeling when their patient was relieved.