What is Mirror Touch Synesthesia?
Synesthesia is a feeling produced by one sense when a different sense is stimulated. A sensation of touch when someone else is being touched is known as mirror touch synesthesia.
It is a condition in which a person mirrors the sensation they see. This means if a person is touched on the left they would feel the sensation on the right.
A study was conducted on 200 students with the palms either up or down. They were shown a video of hand being touched. On being asked if they felt the touch, 45 reported they did.(1)
Doctors associated the condition with structural differences in the brain that causes people to process sensory information differently than others. Researchers relate mirror touch synesthesia to be a result of the overactive sensory system.
Relation Of Mirror Touch Synesthesia With Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand someone’s feelings or emotions.
A few research done around mirror touch synesthesia found such individual to be more inclined to be empathetic than those who did not have this condition. A study published that people with mirror touch synesthesia when shown a picture of a person’s face were able to recognize emotions.(2)
Researchers also theorized that people with mirror touch synesthesia have enhanced social and cognitive recognition.
What Causes Mirror Touch Synesthesia?
Mirror touch synesthesia is a developmental disorder and is known to affect more those individuals who have lost one of their extremities.
Also, the somatosensory mirror system is overactive in some people causing them to feel what others feel. These sensory receptors are present all over the body and are connected to neurons in the central nervous system.
Some experts also believe that the condition can be genetic.(3)
Signs and Symptoms of Mirror Touch Synesthesia
The most common symptoms of mirror touch synesthesia are:
- A sensation of pain on the opposite side of the body if another person feels pain
- A sensation of being touched when another person is touched
- Different sensation such as itching, tingling, pressure, and pain when another person is touched.
- Variation in severity of sensation from mild to deep. Some are barely able to notice the sensation while a few become physically and emotionally debilitated by the condition
Diagnosis of Mirror Touch Synesthesia
There is no specific test to diagnose mirror touch synesthesia. A study was able to show that those with mirror touch synesthesia have an increase in the activity in certain areas of the brain,(4) which could be detected through an MRI scan.
Research is being done to identify tests and tools that can help doctors diagnose the conditions such as showing a video of a person being touched and watching how a person responds to it. However, nothing is fully developed yet.
Also, a higher level of empathy can help diagnose this condition.
How To Cope With Mirror Touch Synesthesia?
It can be both beneficial and difficult to experience the tactile sensation of others. Beneficial being a person can be able to feel what other person feels or sees.
A person with mirror touch synesthesia can benefit from therapy which can be helpful to them in trying to process their sensations. A common method can be, imagining a protective barrier between you and the person who is being touched.
Sometimes prescription medications prove to benefit where the emotions are evoked by conditions such as anxiety and depression.
It is important to consult a doctor if you find yourself avoiding daily activities due to the fear of touch sensations.
The doctors can treat the condition as sensory processing disorder and can help a person deal with the fear and concern of painful or unpleasant mirror touch synesthesia condition.