London: Are you a binge drinker? Read this carefully. Researchers now claim that binge-drinkers’ brains have to put more effort into trying to feel empathy for other people in pain.
The study, published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical, revealed that People who binge-drink show more extensive dysfunction across their brains than previously realized.
“Our data show that binge-drinkers need to work harder to feel empathy for other people in pain. They need to use more resources in terms of higher brain activity than non-binge drinkers,” said study author Charlotte Rae from the University of Sussex in the UK.
“What this means in everyday life is that people who binge-drink might struggle to perceive the pain of others as easily as non-binge drinkers do,” Rae added.
The study involved 71 participants (from France and the UK) whose brain activity was observed in fMRI scanners while undertaking a pain perception task.
Half of these people were classified as binge-drinkers and half were not. The binge-drinkers were sober while they were being observed.
In the task, participants were shown an image of a limb being injured, and asked to imagine either that the body part was theirs, or that of another person, and to state how much pain was associated with the image.
The binge-drinking participants struggled more than their non-binge-drinking counterparts when trying to adopt the perspective of another person experiencing the pain.
They took more time to respond and the scans revealed that their brains had to work harder – to use more neural resources – to appreciate how intensely another person would feel pain.
The study also revealed a more widespread dysfunction than previously realised; a visual area of the brain, which is involved in recognizing body parts, showed unusually high levels of activation in the binge-drinkers.
This was not true in the non-binge drinkers who looked at the same images.
When the binge-drinkers were asked to imagine the injured body part in the picture as their own, their pain estimate was not different from that of their non-binge drinking counterparts.
“We have shown with this study that dysfunction associated with binge drinking is even more extensive than previously known,” said study author Theodora Duka from University of Sussex.
“Reduced empathy in binge drinkers may facilitate drinking as it can blunt the perception of suffering of self or others during a drinking session,” Duka noted.