Brain scans reveal why some people feel your pain

For some people, seeing someone else’s pain is not just emotionally distressing: they feel the pain in their body too.

When we observe or imagine pain, it activates areas of the brain involved in the processing of real pain. This is called the mirror neuron system and is thought to help us to understand other people’s actions and emotions. But the activation is not as strong as that caused by real pain because inhibitory mechanisms normally dampen the response.