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Study Tests Binoculars as Painkillers

by Miranda Trimmier 

Tags: Science and technology, pain, painkillers, body image, binoculars, Scientific American,


Forget aspirin: scientists at Oxford University are testing binoculars as painkillers. Their findings suggest that manipulating visual images of the body could help manage chronic pain, reports the Scientific American.

The researchers asked study participants to perform sets of movements using an arm that gave them chronic pain. During each exercise, the participants watched their hand through different binocular lenses. In one test, their hands were magnified to twice their size. In another, they were made to appear smaller. In each case, the subjects experienced greater pain as the size of their hands seemed to grow.

These subjective observations were buoyed by objective ones: Their fingers swelled more when perceived to be bigger.

The authors of the study aren’t exactly sure why the distorted images affect pain, but they hypothesize that the binoculars changed the subjects’ connection to their bodies. When their hands looked larger, they were more aware of owning them and thus felt pain more acutely.

Image courtesy of jlcwalker, licensed under Creative Commons.