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'I feel for you' -- Some really do

UD researchers examine unusual condition of mirror-touch synesthesia.

When a student in a University of Delaware study watched a video of someone else’s hand being touched, she felt the touch on her own hand. While that may seem a little eerie to most of us, she’s not alone. About two in 100 people have this condition called mirror-touch synesthesia, or MTS.

In an article published in Cortex, UD researchers reveal new information about MTS based on one of the largest studies of its kind. The subject pool was more than 2,000 undergrads from multiple sections of an introductory psychology course who volunteered as research participants over the past few years.

Some of the students in our study didn’t know that what they were experiencing was different from the rest of the population, and it blew their minds,” says Jared Medina, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “But if you have mirror-touch synesthesia, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just an interesting difference, like being double-jointed.”

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Jared Medina works with grad students to demonstrate mirror-touch synesthesia.

Each student was tested sitting at a table with hands oriented either palms up or palms down. Each was shown a series of videos of a hand being touched, varying the location — surface or palm, index or ring finger, right hand or left hand — and asked if they felt anything, where the touch was felt and the strength of the sensation. A second experiment tested reaction times to rule out if someone was faking it. From the 2,351 undergraduates screened, 45 were identified to have MTS.

When I would debrief them, many would tell me about sensations they felt while watching movies,” DePasquale says. “It was almost as if they were a part of the movie — feeling touch, pain and other physical sensations that the characters were experiencing.”


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