Monday, December 18, 2006

Game away the pain

A lot of research, including some published just last week, has demonstrated that the human brain goes to great lengths to avoid being distracted from the task it is focusing on. Some researchers in the medical community are trying to harness that distraction-suppressing capability. These doctors hope that by focusing a patient's mind on an immersive task, the brain will suppress distractions such as the pain, fear, and discomfort caused by medical procedures and recovery.

What can provide a sufficient distraction to get a kid to ignore the pain? In one research paper (PDF), it was the combination of the game Street Luge and a set of virtual-reality goggles. The risk of a pain-free virtual road rash was apparently enough to keep kids from registering much of the pain or fear of needles involved with having an IV line inserted. In sharp contrast to their peers, kids using Street Luge didn't indicate any pain via their facial expression when having the IV put in. The study found that the VR-based distraction left everyone happy, with "significantly more child-, parent-, and nurse-reported satisfaction with pain management."

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