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The brains of binge drinkers have to work harder to feel empathy for other people in pain, research shows

The brains of binge drinkers have to work harder to feel empathy for other people in pain, research shows

  • Researchers studied the MRI brain patterns of people who binge drink regularly
  • They put binge drinkers and non-binge drinkers on a pain perception test
  • This involved taking pictures of injuries and then estimating the possible pain levels
  • People who binge drink found it harder to ‘feel’ the pain that someone else might be experiencing compared to those who don’t binge drink regularly

According to a new study, people who assume binge drinking have to work their brains harder than normal to feel empathy for others who are in pain.

Researchers at the University of Sussex observed the brain functions of 71 volunteers from the UK and France while undertaking a pain perception task.

Half of these people were classified as binge drinkers – that’s the equivalent of 2 and a half liters of lager in 30 days – and half were not.

People who binge drink regularly showed greater signs of dysfunction in the area of ​​their brain related to empathy than those who don’t drink alcohol regularly.

Binge drinkers had more difficulty than those who weren’t binge drinkers when trying to take “ the perspective of another person experiencing pain, ” the authors said.

According to a new study, people who assume binge drinking have to work their brains harder than normal to feel empathy for others who are in pain. Stock image

According to a new study, people who assume binge drinking have to work their brains harder than normal to feel empathy for others who are in pain. Stock image

Volunteers were shown a series of images (in the photo) showing painful injuries to limbs and asked to imagine it happening to them or someone else

Volunteers were shown a series of images (in the photo) showing painful injuries to limbs and asked to imagine it happening to them or someone else

Volunteers were shown a series of images (in the photo) showing painful injuries to limbs and asked to imagine it happening to them or someone else

In the task, participants were shown a picture of a limb that was injured, and they were asked to see a picture of their own body part or that of another person.

BINGE DRINKING: AT LEAST 2.1 OZ PURE ALCOHOL PER MONTH

Binge drinking has a specific definition: It’s not just going out for a rough night.

According to researchers, it is defined as consuming more than 2.1 oz (60 g) of pure alcohol at least once in the past 30 days.

That equates to about three-quarters of a bottle of wine, or 2½ pints of lager at least once a month.

About 30 percent of all adults over the age of 15 who drink alcohol in the UK and France meet the ‘binge drinker’ criteria.

Volunteers were then asked to state how much pain they thought was related to the injury in the image.

‘[Bing-drinkers] took more time to respond and the scans showed that their brains had to work harder – to use more neural resources – to realize how intensely another person would feel pain, ” the team wrote.

The study also revealed a more widespread dysfunction in the brains of binge drinkers related to empathy than previously realized.

A visual area of ​​the brain involved in recognizing body parts showed unusually high levels of activation in binge eating.

This was not true for the non-binge drinkers who watched the same images.

When the binge drinkers were asked to represent the injured body part in the photo as their own, their pain estimate was no different from that of their non-binge drinkers.

The difference came when they tried to imagine that the limb belonged to someone else.

Professor Theodora Duka of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex has been studying the effects of excessive alcohol consumption for years.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming more than 2.1 oz (60 g) of pure alcohol – equivalent to about three-quarters of a bottle of wine, or 2½ pints of lager – on at least one occasion in the past 30 days, she said.

About 30 percent of all adults over the age of 15 who drink alcohol in the UK and France meet the ‘binge drinker’ criteria.

“I have gathered a strong body of evidence on the widespread way that binge drinking is associated with brain dysfunction in areas that support self-control and attention,” she explained.

The purpose of this study was to find out whether binge drinkers showed less empathy compared to non-binge drinkers – and they found it to be true.

“Reduced empathy in binge drinkers can make drinking easier because it can tone down the perception of suffering from oneself or others during a drinking session,” Duka said.

“A brain region called the Fusiform Body Area, which is associated with body part recognition, showed hyperactivity in binge eating in a situation where feelings of empathy are experienced.”

People who binge drink regularly showed signs of dysfunction in the area of ​​their brain related to empathy than those who don't drink alcohol regularly. Stock image

People who binge drink regularly showed signs of dysfunction in the area of ​​their brain related to empathy than those who don't drink alcohol regularly. Stock image

People who binge drink regularly showed signs of dysfunction in the area of ​​their brain related to empathy than those who don’t drink alcohol regularly. Stock image

Dr. Charlotte Rae of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex said the results were “surprising.”

“Our data shows that binge drinkers have to work harder to feel empathy for other people who are in pain,” Rae said, adding “they need to use more resources in terms of higher brain activity than non-binge drinkers.”

This means that in daily life people who binge have difficulty perceiving the pain of others as easily as people who do not drink excessively.

“It’s not that binge drinkers feel less empathy – it’s just that they need to use more brain power to do this,” Rae explained.

“But under certain circumstances, when resources are limited, binge drinkers may have trouble responding empathetically to others.”

The findings are published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

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