BS Study*: Doctors Feel Patients’ Pain | Empathy | LiveScience

Been a while since I pulled out the BS flag, and this seems entirely appropriate:

Good doctors really do feel their patients’ pain.

Hmm. ‘Good’ doctors?

A study, published today (Jan. 29) in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, shows that when doctors see their patients experiencing pain, the pain centers in the physicians’ own brains light up. And when the doctors give treatment to relieve pain, it activates the physicians’ reward centers.

The doctors were then instructed either to use an electronic device that they believed would relieve the patients’ pain, or to withhold the pain relief. In response, the patient-actors either grimaced in pain or maintained a neutral expression to suggest their pain had subsided.

via Doctors Feel Patients’ Pain | Empathy | LiveScience.

Umm, what? These ‘good’ doctors were told that an electronic device would either relieve or not relieve pain, and then they reacted to their patients’ acting with activity in their own pain or reward centers by fMRI.

My first question: did these docs really buy into this magical electronic pain-relieving device, and if so, why? I have to wonder if it was their amusement areas lighting up and not their pleasure centers…

Second, at no time is ‘good’ established in this article. Were there a subset of docs whose fMRI’s didn’t change, and thus they’re ‘bad’?

Not buying it (would buy one of those magical electronic pain relievers, though).


*I say this is a BS study based on this writeup. If it’s something else entirely, okay, but this is just awful.


  1. The one thing I can think of is that the electronic device was some kind of TENS unit.

  2. Well I come from an “empathetic” profession and recently noted that someone somewhere was of the mind that while empathy apparently was something one was born with, there were some who thought it could be taught, in med school of all places. Further reading revealed that the expression of an empathetic response was possible so I guess what they would teach less than empathetic med students was how to respond as if they cared and understood their patients feelings. In any case, the really relevant issue may be the financial one. Data indicates that many doctors get sued for OK medicine but bad empathy and many empathetic doctors who make medical mistakes don’t get sued because their patients held them in high regard, most likely because the patients thought the doctor understood them.
    Seen it happen. Patient didn’t like the doctor and sued or complained about decent medicine. Patient did like the doctor and wrote thank you notes for mediocre medicine.


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