If you can’t slow down time, try this…

Control your pain through biofeedback:

People can learn to suppress pain when they are shown the activity of a pain-control region of their brain, a small new study suggests. The new biofeedback technique might also turn out to be useful for treating other conditions.

Biofeedback techniques based on electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings of brainwave patterns, in which electrodes are placed on the scalp, are used with some success to treat epilepsy and attention problems such as ADHD.

…Fumiko Maeda, Christopher deCharms and their colleagues at Stanford University in California have tried showing people real-time feedback from a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

The eight volunteers saw the activity of a pain-control region called the rostral anterior cingulate cortex represented on a screen either as a flame that varied in size, or as a simple scrolling bar graph. This brain region is known to modulate both the intensity and the emotional impact of pain.

During the scans the volunteers had to endure painful heat on the palm of their hand. They were asked to try to increase or decrease the signal from the brain scanner and to periodically rate their pain sensations.

It took just three 13-minute sessions in the scanner for the eight volunteers to learn to vary the brain activity level, and thus to develop some control over their pain sensations, the researchers reported at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting in San Francisco last week.

Interestingly, none of the participants could explain how they managed some control. But it seemed to work, albeit on a small number sample.

Why stop here? Why not carry around an advanced biofeedback monitor and console to control your emotions more generally?

The bottom line: I can’t imagine how welfare economics will look two hundred years from now.


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