Feeling Fake Pain

When it comes to pain, sometimes it's mind over body. Recent research has found that the brain reacts to "injuries" committed to inanimate objects as if they were parts of the body. In the study, scientists found that subjects can confuse a fake rubber arm--or even a table--with the body.

The brain's understanding of the body may not be so simple. Our mental image of our own bodies seems to be continually updated by visual and sensory clues explains Carrie Armel and Vilayanur Ramachandran, cognitive neuroscientists at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine. For their study, 16 volunteers sat down at a table that hid each person's right hand. In place of the right hand, the researchers put a dummy rubber hand on the table. To measure stress, electrodes were placed on the left hand.

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Researchers then tapped the fake rubber hand as well as the real right hand simultaneously. Then, researchers slightly bent a finger on the real right hand while also pulling back the finger on the rubber hand into a painful position. Subjects believed that their real fingers could go back further than the fingers actually could.

In a second experiment, 24 subjects went through a similar set of tasks, this time without the fake hand. After the tapping the table and each subject's hand, researchers put a Band-Aid on both the table and the hand. When the Band-Aid was partially ripped off the table subjects felt and registered pain. Ramachandran notes that even though the mind rationally understands that it is not being hurt, the visual cortex overrides such thoughts.

The study was published in journal Proceedings B, published by the Royal Society in England

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