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Looking at body can reduce pain

10th February 2011

Scientists have discovered that what you look at can determine the amount of pain you feel.

Vaccination1

Researchers suggest that instead of looking away during an injection, for example, looking at your body can minimise the discomfort.

The study, published in Psychological Science, offers a new perspective on how the brain processes pain and this better understanding could lead to new treatments.

Eighteen volunteers took part in the University College London (UCL) and University of Milan-Bicocca research, which was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Heat was applied to each volunteer’s hand with the temperature gradually increased.

Patrick Haggard, professor of cognitive neuroscience from UCL, explained: “This gives us a measure of the pain threshold, and it is a safe and reliable way of testing when the brain pathways that underline pain become active.”

On average volunteers could tolerated 3C more heat when they were looking at their hand in the mirror, compared with when their hand was obscured by a block of wood.

Professor Haggard said: “You always advise children not to look when they are having an injection or a blood sample taken, but we have found that looking at the body is analgesic - just looking at the body reduces pain levels.

“So my advice would be to look at your arm, but try to avoid seeing the needle - if that’s possible.”

Dr Flavia Mancini, lead author of the paper, said that thinking beyond the pain stimulus, to the body itself, may lead to novel clinical treatments.

 

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