Skip to main content
Accessibility  |  Contact  |  Privacy  |  Terms of Service

Simply Looking at Your Body May Reduce Pain

  • Published: 2011-02-10 : Author: University College London
  • Synopsis: Research shows that viewing your hand reduces the pain experienced when a hot object touches the skin.

Main Document

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 level of pain depends on how large the hand looked - the larger the hand the greater the effect of pain reduction.

Flavia Mancini, the first author of the study, said "The image that the brain forms of our own body has a strong effect on the experienced level of pain. Moreover, the way the body is represented influences the level of pain experienced."

During the experiment, 18 participants had a heat probe placed 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 towards their left hand, but they either saw their own 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 degree 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. When the hand was seen as enlarged, participants tolerated even greater levels of heat from the probe 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 the processing of pain 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 by 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!"

Similar Topics

1 : Virtual Reality Reduces Phantom Pain in Paraplegics : Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.
2 : New Insights Into CRPS a Chronic Pain Condition : University of Bath.
3 : Determining the Origin of Hip and/or Spine Pain : American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
4 : Effective and Safe Options to Treat Pain : Family Features Editorial Syndicate.
5 : Pain Scale Chart - 1 to 10 Levels : Disabled World.
From our Pain - Acute & Chronic section - Full List (63 Items)

Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.

Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.

Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.

List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.

Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be, and information on blood group types/compatibility.

1 : Smartphone Addiction is More Addiction to Social Interaction
2 : Actress Eileen Grubba Advocates for Inclusion from Hollywood to the Boardroom
3 : Types of Genetic Mutations Associated with Nephrotic Syndrome Identified
4 : Fighting My Cancer as Much as Possible - Why Many Patients Join Phase 1 Clinical Trials
5 : Social Stigma Can Stand in the Way of Food Insecurity Screening


Disclaimer: This site does not employ and is not overseen by medical professionals. Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.

Reporting Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.