What's the Latest Development?
The influential neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran explains some mirror experiments everyone can try at home to better understand how the brain perceives the world. "You probably look in a mirror every day without thinking about it," writes Ramachandran. "But mirrors can reveal a great deal about the brain, with implications for psychology, clinical neurology and even philosophy." By positioning a mirror in a specific way, we can tempt the brain into believing something false, thereby examining how it processes information.
What's the Big Idea?
These same experiments with a mirror are being used to treat patients with chronic pain disorders. When chronic pain persists in one limb, for example, using a mirror to tempt the brain into seeing it as the other, healthy limb can "unblock" the affected arm resulting in pain reduction. "In placebo-controlled clinical trials on returning war veterans, mirror visualization feedback has been found to be strikingly successful in some patients," says Ramachandran. The technique is often used when a patient feels phantom pain from an amputated limb.