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Surprising Science

Hold A Bottle Of Pain Pills And Call Me In The Morning

Researchers found that simply looking at and holding a bottle of pain medication "nonconsciously decrease[d] pain sensitivity" in test subjects.

What’s the Latest Development?

A study recently published in the online journal PLOS ONE expands on a 2002 investigation into pain sensitivity and the effects of exposure to, rather than ingestion of, pain medications. Test subjects were instructed to immerse a hand into a freezing-water bath until it became too uncomfortable. Then, they were told to evaluate the design of several products for a different study, after which they subjected themselves to the freezing-water bath again. Of the 25 subjects who were given a bottle of ibuprofen to hold and study, ten of those said that they felt less pain during the second water bath than the first.

What’s the Big Idea?

Psychologists and lead researchers Abraham Rutchick and Michael Slepian say it’s not clear exactly how the increase in tolerance worked, but the study did “[demonstrate] that objects in the environment can nonconsciously decrease pain sensitivity.” They are careful to note that their subjects were all healthy undergraduate students, and that results might differ with older people with specific ailments such as arthritis.

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Read it at Pacific Standard


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