Some People Can Physically Feel When Others are Touched, Hit, or Stroked

June 15, 2018

Pau can’t watch films very often. When she does, everything that physically happens to characters on screen she feels to a certain extent on her own body.

“Films for me, or trailers, or whatever, are just a continuous chain of violence, punching, slapping, shooting, falling and, worse still, kissing or touching people’s faces,” she said. “I’ve always hated screen kisses (or never been able to watch them) because… well I don’t want to kiss them, do I?”

Pau has something called mirror-touch synesthesia, which is a brain condition that seems to amplify people’s sensation of touch so much they can essentially physically feel what others feel. When she sees people being hit, punched, stroked, prodded, or injected, she experiences a similar sensation on the same part of her own body.

For example, once when she was watching a group of boys playing paddleball in a swimming pool, she would almost feel like she was batting the ball herself.

“I got this really pleasant feeling in [my] hand and down my arm as if I was hitting the ball myself, but without making any effort,” she said. “I enjoyed it so much that every morning as I went past I would stand and watch him for a while enjoying this fabulous sensation – although I had to clear off after a while in case he thought there was something odd about me staring at him like that or thought I fancied him or something.”

Isabella, who is 14, also has mirror-touch synesthesia, which she said can be extremely helpful for helping other people with injuries, but also a huge annoyance at the same time.

“Mirror-touch synesthesia, in my opinion, is simply an exaggerated physical connection with any other human being,” she said. “Things like holding a dog will evoke me to feel a somewhat fluffy weight in my arms. An open cut or a bruise will cause me to feel the same pain in the same area. However, things like back pain or soreness are not visible, therefore I cannot feel them.”

The feeling only occurs when she looks at an injury, she said. But that means that even if the person is no longer experiencing pain, Isabella still will if the cut or graze is still visible. Similarly, Pau only felt the sensation of hitting the ball if she actually saw it make contact.

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