Pavel GoldsteinWhen holding hands appeared to relieve his wife’s pain during the delivery of their daughter, postdoctoral pain researcher Pavel Goldstein was inspired to learn more. “I wanted to test it out in the lab: Can one really decrease pain with touch and, if so, how?”

The resulting study showed that holding hands, as Goldstein and his wife did, can synchronize breathing, heart rate and brain wave patterns. And the more those brain waves sync, the more the pain diminishes. Goldstein’s team also found that when one partner was in pain and the comforting partner couldn’t provide a loving touch, the coupling of their brain waves diminished.

“You may express empathy for a partner’s pain, but without touch it may not be fully communicated,” Goldstein says.