February 14, 2011
by Pamela Katz Ressler, RN, BSN, HN-BC, MS-PREP graduate student and PREP-AIRED blog moderator and administrator, Tufts University School of Medicine
In honor of Valentine’s Day and in celebration of “heart month”, February, today’s blog entry asks the question…can viewing a photograph of a romantic partner reduce pain? This was the research question posed by investigators from Stanford University in a study entitled: Viewing Pictures of a Romantic Partner Reduces Experimental Pain published in PLoS ONE. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the investigators examined fifteen individuals in the early stages of a romantic relationship (first nine months). Participants completed three tasks under periods of moderate and high thermal pain: 1) viewing pictures of their romantic partner, 2) viewing pictures of an equally attractive and familiar acquaintance, and 3) a word-association distraction task previously demonstrated to reduce pain. Viewing pictures of a romantic partner and the distraction task both decreased the amount of self-reported pain experienced by the study participants. However greater pain relief was reported while viewing pictures of a romantic partner and this was the only study condition associated with increased activity in several reward-processing regions of the brain. According to the research team lead by Dr. Jarred Younger, “The results suggest that the activation of neural reward systems via non-pharmacologic means can reduce the experience of pain”. In the clinical setting, creating an environment that encouraging patients to have pictures of loved ones within view may help to achieve more effective pain management.
What are your thoughts on this study?