Acupuncturist and patient brains synchronise during treatment

The effectiveness of acupuncture is greatly influenced by the interaction between the patient and the acupuncturist, yet the underlying mechanism is not well understood. A study conducted by Chinese researchers aimed to investigate the inter-brain mechanism of the patient-acupuncturist dyad during acupuncture stimulation in a clinical setting. Seventy healthy individuals acted as ‘patients’ and were randomly assigned to receive either verum acupuncture or sham acupuncture from a single acupuncturist. The researchers used functional near-infrared spectroscopy to simultaneously record the neural responses of the patient-acupuncturist dyad during acupuncture stimulation in each group. The results showed that during verum acupuncture stimulation, inter-brain neural synchronisation (INS) in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the patient-acupuncturist dyad significantly increased. This increase in INS was positively correlated with the needling sensations reported by patients. Previous studies have shown that INS occurs between two or more brains during social interactions and facilitates a mechanism of ‘shared intentionality’, resulting in greater attunement and attention to the interaction. The authors suggest that INS in patient-acupuncturist interactions may reflect the mindset synchrony between patient and acupuncturist, leading to greater tuning in with each other and the interaction's goals, facilitating greater mutual attention. They further recommend that during the acupuncture treatment, both patient and acupuncturist should concentrate their minds on perceiving the needling sensations of the acupuncture treatment. The acupuncturist should pay attention to the patient's responses, and accurately capture sensory changes from their fingers to determine the course of further manipulation, while the patient should carefully experience the changes of local sensation induced by acupuncture stimulation.

The increased inter-brain neural synchronization in prefrontal cortex between simulated patient and acupuncturist during acupuncture stimulation: Evidence from functional near-infrared spectroscopy hyperscanning. Hum Brain Mapp. 2023 Feb 15;44(3):980-988.