Killing pain

Published: Tuesday 29 February 2000

A simple cost-free way to reduce pain is to bring to mind a favourite sexual fantasy. Peter S Staats and his group at the University of Wisconsin, USA, suggest an entirely new approach to pain therapy. The premise is that emotions are likely to be processed in the thalamus -- a region of the brain which is closely involved in processing pain responses. In an experiment, student volunteers were asked to plunge one of their hands in a tank of ice water and keep it there until they could no longer tolerate the pain. During a second dip, they were randomly assigned into groups. The group which was asked to think of a preferred sexual fantasy such as kissing, flirting and other enjoyable activities with a favourite partner, was able to keep their hand in the ice water more than twice as long as their counterparts in the other groups (three minutes versus a little more than one minute). They also handled pain better, experienced less pain and were less anxious and less depressed than the other groups.

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