When the patients experienced pain, the pain centers in the doctors’ brains lit up. When the physicians “relieved” their patients’ pain, regions in the doctors’ brains responsible for the placebo response and reward centers were activated.

The more doctors could relate to the patient’s perspective, the more the physicians’ reward centers lit up when they were able to relieve pain, Jensen said.

The findings may shed light on how the doctor-patient relationship affects patients’ experience of care, Jensen said. The doctor’s response may also add another layer to the complex factors that mediate the placebo response, she said.