The ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes and imagine what he is feeling is something empathetic people are capable of. New research that relied on bran scans of physicians shows doctors actually feel their patients’ pain, and their relief.

Led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, the new findings, which appear online in Molecular Psychiatry, help to illuminate one of the more intangible aspects of health care—the doctor/patient relationship, according to a press release from Harvard University.

“Our findings showed that the same brain regions that have previously been shown to be activated when patients receive placebo therapies are similarly activated in the brains of doctors when they administer what they think are effective treatments,” explains first author Karin Jensen, PhD, an investigator in the Department of Psychiatry and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and member of the PiPS.

Notably, she adds, the findings also showed that the physicians who reported greater ability to take things from the patients’ perspective, that is, to empathize with patients’ feelings, experienced higher satisfaction during patients’ treatments, as reflected in the brain scans.

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