Science News

The "Art" of Pain Relief

Sun, 21st Sep 2008

Scientists have found that an "alf-arted" attempt at distraction therapy won't cut the mustard or kill the pain.

Writing in the journal Consciousness and Cognition Italian researcher Marina de Tommaso and her colleagues from the University of Bari asked 12 men and women to browse through 300 pieces of art including works by da Vinci and Botticelli.

Detail from the The subjects then selected the twenty items they thought were the most beautiful and the most ugly.  Then, as they gazed at either a picture they'd rated as pretty, a blank screen or an "ugly" image the team fired a short laser pulse onto their hands, which they experienced as a stinging sensation.

Intriguingly the subjects rated the pain as a third less intense when it was delivered as they looked at a pretty picture compared with the blank screen or an ugly picture.  And whilst visual distractions are known to cut pain and speed up recovery times in hospitals, according to the team this is the first time that subjective assessments of beauty have been shown to play a role.

"Hospitals have been designed to be functional, but we think that their aesthetic aspects should be taken into account too," she says.

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