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Doctors learn to control their own brains' pain responses to better treat patients
Date:9/27/2007

Physicians apparently learn to shut off the portion of their brain that helps them appreciate the pain their patients experience while treating them and instead activate a portion of the brain connected with controlling emotions, according to new research using brain scans at the University of Chicago.

Because doctors sometimes have to inflict pain on their patients as part of the healing process, they also must develop the ability to not be distracted by the suffering, said Jean Decety, Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University and co-author of Expertise Modulates the Perception of Pain in Others, published in the Oct. 9 issue of Current Biology and available Thursday at noon on-line.

They 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 Decety, who conducted the study with Yawei Cheng of the Institute of Neuroscience, National Yang-Ming University in Taipei, and colleagues there.

Previous research, including work from Decetys lab, 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 by Decety and the Taiwanese team shows for the first time that people can learn to control that automatic response.

The team performed its research in Taiwan with two groups of evenly matched men and women with a mean age of 35 and similar socio-economic and educational levels-- a group of 14 physicians and 14 people with no experience in acupuncture. They were tested using a functional MRI.

Brain responses were recorded as ind
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Contact: William Harms
w-harms@uchicago.edu
773-702-8356
University of Chicago
Source:Eurekalert

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