Stubbed your toe? Try looking at it. Even better, look at it through a magnifying glass. Because new research finds that just looking at a part of your body in acute pain can lessen it. And the pain can be deadened further if the body part is made to look bigger. The work appears in the journal Psychological Science. [Flavia Mancini et al., "Visual Distortion of Body Size Modulates Pain Perception"]
Researchers had 18 participants undergo a standard test in which a probe touching one hand is slowly heated. The volunteers can stop the heat the moment it becomes painful. The scientists used mirrors to manipulate the subjects’ views. So while they always looked toward their left hand, they saw either their hand, a smaller image of their hand, a larger image, or a wooden object.
The subjects tolerated an average of an additional 3.2 Celsius degrees when they were looking at their normal hand versus the wood. And even hotter temperatures when the hand appeared bigger. Looking at the smaller version of their hand had a smaller effect.
The researchers note that other studies have found the opposite effect for chronic pain. But for acute pain, they wrote, “looking beyond the painful stimulus to the body itself may have novel therapeutic implications.”
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