Researchers studying pain relieving mechanisms find that distracting your mind to something other than the pain helps to actually reduce discomfort.
Ever noticed the way grandparents handle a toddler who has hurt himself playing in the garden and show him the butterflies or something else to divert his mind? Researchers working on ways to combat pain have now found that this technique actually works even on adults.
During a study, Jason Buhle, doctoral student at Columbia University subjected 33 participants to a little pain even as they were busy doing a mental task that distracted their mind. When asked about the pain in their forearm, the level of discomfort they reported was lower than expected, pointing to a possible role of distraction in the sensation of pain. When the distraction was combined with a placebo cream for pain relief, the pain they experienced was even lesser.
Explaining this, Jason Buhle says:
“Both placebo and distraction are effective mechanisms for reducing pain. You can combine them and you don’t lose anything.”
During the study, Buhle even found that distraction was more effective than the placebo alone in relieving pain. Many participants who were highly distracted did not even notice the pain. These results clearly imply that the placebo effect is due to a mechanism that is distinct from distraction.
Responding to these findings published in the journal Psychological Science, the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program director Dr. Ian Cook expressed the opinion that it would be an interesting hypothesis to investigate in conditions such as anxiety where placebos have proved to be effective.
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