Simply Looking at Your Body May Reduce Pain

Author: University College London
Published: 2011/02/10 - Updated: 2022/06/12
Contents: Summary - Definition - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Research shows that just viewing your hand reduces the pain experienced when a hot object touches the skin. The image that the brain forms of our own body strongly affects the experienced level of pain. Moreover, how the body is represented influences the pain level experienced. The team found that simply viewing the hand reduced pain levels: the pain threshold was about 3 degrees C higher when looking at the hand than when looking at another object.

Introduction

Simply looking at your body reduces pain, according to new research by scientists from UCL (University College London) and the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy. Published in the journal Psychological Science, the research shows that viewing your hand reduces the pain experienced when a hot object touches the skin. Furthermore, the pain level depends on how large the hand looks - the larger the hand, the greater the effect of pain reduction.

Main Digest

Flavia Mancini, the first author of the study, said:

"The image that the brain forms of our own body have a strong effect on the experienced level of pain. Moreover, how the body is represented influences, the pain level experienced."

During the experiment, 18 participants placed a heat probe on their left hand. The probe temperature was gradually increased, and participants stopped the heat by pressing a foot pedal as soon as they began to feel pain. The scientists used a set of mirrors to manipulate what the participants saw during the experiment. Participants always looked toward their left hand, but they either saw their hand or a wooden object appearing at the hand's location.

The team found that simply viewing the hand reduced pain levels: the pain threshold was about 3 degrees C higher when looking at the hand compared to when looking at another object.

Next, the team used concave and convex mirrors to show the hand as either enlarged or reduced in size. Participants tolerated even greater levels of heat from the probe when the hand was seen as enlarged before reporting pain. When the hand was seen as smaller than its true size, participants reported pain at lower temperatures than when viewing the hand at its normal size.

This suggests that the experience of pain arises in parts of the brain that represent the size of the body. The scientists' 'visual trick' may have influenced the brain's spatial maps of the skin. The results suggest that pain processing is closely linked to these brain maps of the skin.

Professor Patrick Haggard said:

"Many psychological therapies for pain focus on the painful stimulus, for example, by changing expectations or teaching distraction techniques. However, thinking beyond the stimulus that causes pain to the body itself may have novel therapeutic implications. For example, when a child goes to the doctor for a blood test, we tell them it will hurt less if they don't look at the needle. Our results suggest that they should look at their arm, but they should try to avoid seeing the needle if that is possible!"

Attribution/Source(s):

This quality-reviewed publication titled Simply Looking at Your Body May Reduce Pain was selected for publishing by Disabled World's editors due to its relevance to the disability community. While the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or brevity, it was originally authored by University College London and published 2011/02/10 (Edit Update: 2022/06/12). For further details or clarifications, you can contact University College London directly at ucl.ac.uk Disabled World does not provide any warranties or endorsements related to this article.

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Cite This Page (APA): University College London. (2011, February 10). Simply Looking at Your Body May Reduce Pain. Disabled World. Retrieved May 29, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/health/pain/looking.php

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