This incredible study published in the Journal of Pain demonstrated that pain can be experienced just by observing others.

They gave non-painful electrical stimuli (like a gentle TENS) to the back of the wrist of subjects. Then they asked them how the sensation felt, using a 0-10 pain scale.

Prior to entering the lab, the subject were also asked to rate their fear level ranging from 0 (no fear of pain) to 10 (maximum imaginable fear) of pain.

All 88 subjects repeatedly received identical electrical stimuli of intensity below their pain threshold. However, some of them were tricked… they saw an actor just before them get the same stimulation, but the actor simply pretended to feel pain.

Incredibly those who saw the actor just before their own stimulation admitted to higher fear levels prior to the experiment and were also more likely to experience pain; when the exact same stimulus before seeing the actor was previously reported by them to not have been painful at all.

“…we found that observation of people reporting pain could evoke the allodynic effect without any tissue damage”

Przewoznik et al 2022

So why is this important outside of a fake experimental setting? Perhaps the contagiousness may be even more amplified in a clinical setting. Say a child sees another child in a doctor’s office getting an injection and screaming, so inevitably the next child is more likely to also scream in pain.

“…observational learning alone is effective and sufficient to induce pain by stimuli previously assessed as non-painful.”Przewoznik et al 2022

How we experience reality is purely based on our beliefs. What we see may become how we feel! So be aware of what you’re looking at every day… because seeing is feeling!

A person sees on social media someone walking and experiencing pain, the next time they go for a walk, they may be more likely to experience pain with walking… why? …because pain can be contagious, just by observation. Whether in real life, on the news, YouTube or social media, seeing others experience pain and suffering may be wiring us to also become more sensitive to fear and pain… and we wonder why persistent pain & anxiety are on the rise!


“…learning through observation may contribute to people experiencing pain when exposed to innocuous events.”

Przewoznik et al 2022

On a personal note, I don’t watch the news. I listen to current events on the radio so I don’t become completely oblivious to local and world events, but I don’t see the point in seeing all the awful tragedies that occur every day locally and across the world.

I refuse to expose my nervous system to needlessly experiencing other people’s suffering for which I can do nothing about.

One of my advices for my patients with pain system hypersensitivity is,

STOP watching the news!”

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