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Visual perception and pain

An article in the latest issue of Current Biology (24 November 2008) reports some experiments in which magnifying the visual image of a painful hand during movement increased the amount of pain experienced, while 'minifying' it did the reverse, and even reduced the swelling. This recalls other experimental work in which patients with phantom limb pain were helped by means of a mirror box which made it appear as if their absent limb were still there. There is also evidence that at least some cases of repetitive strain injury are due to 'smearing' of the cortical representation of the affected fingers.

I find reports of this kind extremely interesting. I'm sure they have implications for the apparent effectiveness of various sorts of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) and for the still-mysterious placebo effect, though I don't know exactly what they are. Brain representation of body parts is plastic and seems to have a lot of top-down effects.

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