Those who feel pain may not be able to rely on binge drinkers to empathise with them as new research showed that they may not be as empathetic towards people suffering from pain as compared to their non-binge drinker counterparts.

A study, published in Neuroimage entitled, "Differential brain responses for perception of pain during empathic response in binge drinkers compared to non-binge drinkers," showed that the brains of binge drinkers would require more effort for them to feel empathy to those who are in pain.

Dr Charlotte Rae, a lecturer from the University of Sussex's School of Psychology stated that based on their data, the brains of binge-drinkers need to put in more effort in order for it to feel empathy towards others in pain. It seemed that the higher brain activity, which responds to imagery pain, in social or binge drinkers, works very slowly and more brain resource needs to be utilised.

Researchers utilised MRI scanners to monitor the brain activity of 71 participants from France and the UK. The task was all about perception of pain. Half of the participants were considered as binge drinkers while the other half were non-binge drinkers. The researchers noted that binge drinking would mean drinking about 2.5 pints of lager or 3/4 of a wine bottle, at least once in the 30 days preceding the study. Those who belonged to the binge-drinking group were said to be sober during the actual task.

The activity that the participants engaged in, involved imagining an image of an injured body part. Each participant would then report on the degree of pain that a person feels in relation to the image.

The group of binge-drinkers took longer to respond in terms of taking on the perspective of a person who experiences pain. The MRI scans also showed that the brains of the binge-drinking group would use more resources in order for them to understand the intensity of the pain that the other person would feel.

Binge Drinkers Show Less Empathy
Small "wine windows" were created in 16th-century Florence for landowners and wealthy families to pass alcohol that they had produced directly to customers Photo: AFP / Tiziana FABI

Rae noted that it must not be taken as though binge drinkers feel less empathy. It's just that since they require more brain resources to do this, they could find some difficulty in giving an empathetic response if the resources start to become low.