While absence may make the heart grow fonder, studies are now suggesting that being in the presence of a loved one may reduce pain.

A new study has confirmed that social support can result in pain relief – with or without physical contact. 

'Social support by romantic partners'

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology (UMIT) in Austria and the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain was titled "Dispostional empathy is associated with experimental pain reduction during provision of social support by romantic partners" and was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain. 

Researchers in the study looked at the sensitivity to pressure pain in 48 heterosexual couples. Each participant was tested alone and in the presence of their partner. Dispositional empathy, defined as the tendency for people to imagine and experience the feelings and experiences of others, was measured by means of a questionnaire. 

When individuals were in the presence of their partner, both men and women showed higher pain thresholds and pain tolerance as well as lower sensory and affective pain ratings on constant pressure stimuli. The empathy of their partner was positively associated with pain tolerance and negatively associated with sensory pain experiences. 

Professor Stefan Duschek of UMIT spoke on behalf of the authors and said that "repeatedly, talking and touching have been shown to reduce pain, but our research shows that even the passive presence of a romantic partner can reduce it and that partner empathy may buffer affective distress during pain exposure".