The patient-clinician interaction can powerfully shape treatment out-comes such as pain, but is often considered an intangible ‘art-of-medicine’, and has largely eluded scientific inquiry. Although brain correlates of social processes such as empathy and theory-of-mind have been studied using single-subject designs, the specific behavioral and neural mechanisms underpinning the patient-clinician interaction are unknown. Using a two-person interactive design, we simultaneously recorded functional MRI (i.e. hyperscanning) in patient-clinician dyads, who interacted via live video while clinicians treated evoked pain in chronic pain patients. Our results show that patient analgesia is mediated by patient-clinician nonverbal behavioral mirroring and brain-to-brain concordance in circuitry implicated in theory-of-mind and social mirroring. Dyad-based analyses showed extensive dynamic coupling of these brain nodes with the partners’ brain activity, yet only in dyads where clinical rapport had been established prior to the interaction. These findings point to a putatively key brain-behavioral mechanism for therapeutic alliance and psychosocial analgesia.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience