Posts Tagged ‘Virtual reality’

How to Hack Your Unconscious…to Take Control of Pain

August 4, 2018

This post is based on a feature article with the same title as this post by Emma Young in the 28 July 2018 issue of the New Scientist.  Many, if not most, people think that the amount of pain they feel is beyond conscious control. This is not true. Although you can’t influence your physiological pain response to things like an injury or illness, there are ways to reduce the amount of pain you perceive.

Goldstein, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Colorado conducted a series of studies in his lab. After he inflicted pain by heating volunteers’ forearms, they reported being touched by a stranger did nothing to reduce the discomfort, whereas being touched by their romantic partner did. The more empathic the partner, the bigger the effect. Goldstein says,”We already know that touch can communicate different emotions, for example, sadness and happiness. Perhaps we can also transfer our empathy through touch, resulting in analgesia.

We have ways to modulate pain, such as by the release of the body’s own painkillers. Sensory neuroscientist Giandomenico Iannetti of University College, London, says, “Generally you feel what is useful to feel.” But it is also possible to trick the brain into feeling less.

Maria Sanchez-Vives of the Cortical Networks and Virtual Environments in Neuroscience Research Lab in Barcelona, Spain and her colleagues have found another way to do this. Their studies show that if people can take “ownership” of a virtual reality (VR) arm and feel that it is their own, their ability to tolerate painful stimuli applied to their real arm improves. Maria Sanchez-Vives says “VR can be highly immersive, interactive and engaging.”

VR simulations of natural environments and other scenes are currently used in some hospitals to reduce pain, or doses of painkilling medication, when treating burns patients or even during surgery. If you don’t have a VR arm available, you can create a similar effect by moving you body into unfamiliar positions. Ianentti’s team found that getting volunteers to cross one arm over the other was enough to reduce the pain caused b a laser heating the back of one hand. This seems to work by confusing the brain, which normally maps signals from your right hand to the right side of your body and vice versa.

There are other pain-busting strategies, Distraction is effective, as anyone who has ever watched a TV mounted above a dentist’s chair knows. Pleasant smells seem to reduce the intensity of a painful stimulus, as does looking at pictures you find beautiful. Swearing can also work, perhaps by triggering a hormonal response that reduces pain. However, this tends not to work if you usually swear a lot.


The Temporal Doppler Effect

May 19, 2013

The Doppler Effect refers to frequencies of sound or light increasing as an object approaches and decreasing as the object recedes. The most familiar example of the Doppler Effect is of the frequency of a train whistle increasing as the train approaches and decreasing as the train whistle recedes. The most esoteric example of the Doppler Effect is the red shift of light indicating the age of the universe as the Big Bang recedes. Now it appears that there is also a psychological Doppler Effect.1

In one study, 95 undergraduates were asked either to think ahead to exactly one month from today or to think back to exactly one month ago today. The target day’s psychological distance was reported using a scale from 1 (a really short time from now) to 10 (a really long time from now). One month in the future was reported as being closer than one month in the past.

In another study, 98 Boston commuters were asked to think ahead to exactly one year from today or to think back to exactly one year from today. Again, one year in the future was perceived as being closer than one year in the past.

Yet a third study used’s Mechanical Turk Service. 333 participants completed an online survey for $0.75. Participants took the survey either eight days before or seven days after Valentine’s Day. The survey consisted of a scale ranging from -3 (an extremely short time from now) to 3 (an extremely long time from now) to rate the psychological distance to or from Valentine’s Day. Again the results showed that the time ahead was perceived as shorter than the time past.

The final study used a virtual reality simulator to move the participants either forwards or backwards. Immediately after this virtually reality experience, the participants rated how far an event either three weeks in the future or three weeks in the past felt to them. Those who had had the virtual reality experience of moving forward again experienced the future as being closer than the past. However, this effect was mitigated for those who had experienced the backwards virtual reality experience. Although the simulation did mitigate the feeling of the future being more distant than the past, the difference was not statistically significant. Although the study involved 80 research participants, 40 experiencing forward virtual reality and 40 experiencing backwards virtual reality, it would not be surprising if a much larger research sample did achieve statistical significance at a conventional alpha level of 0.05 (the probability of incorrectly accepting the null hypothesis). The power of the statistical test (the probability of detecting a true difference) was not reported

There are both theoretical physicists and philosophers who have argued that time has no unique direction. Einstein remarked that time’s arrow is” …a gratuitous assumption).2 3 Regardless of the direction of time, it does have a psychological direction affected by the spatio-temporal direction. It would also appear to have adaptive value, as we need to cope with the time dominant future and draw upon the less time dominant past to help us succeed.

1Caruso, E.M., Boven, L.V., Chin, M., & Ward, A. (2013). The Temporal Doppler Effect: When the Future Feels Closer Than the Past. Psychological Science, a

2Einstein, A. (1955 March 21). [Letter to Vero Besso & Bice Rusconi-Bosso]. Albert Einstein Archives (7-245.10) Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

3Mehlbert, H. (1962). Review of the book, The Direction of Time by H. Reichenbach. The Philosophical Review, 71, 99-104

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.