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No Pain Relief with the Rubber Hand Illusion
Published: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Author: Rahul Mohan et al.

by Rahul Mohan, Karin B. Jensen, Valeria I. Petkova, Abishikta Dey, Nadia Barnsley, Martin Ingvar, James H. McAuley, G. Lorimer Moseley, Henrik H. Ehrsson

The sense of body ownership can be easily disrupted during illusions and the most common illusion is the rubber hand illusion. An idea that is rapidly gaining popularity in clinical pain medicine is that body ownership illusions can be used to modify pathological pain sensations and induce analgesia. However, this idea has not been empirically evaluated. Two separate research laboratories undertook independent randomized repeated measures experiments, both designed to detect an effect of the rubber hand illusion on experimentally induced hand pain. In Experiment 1, 16 healthy volunteers rated the pain evoked by noxious heat stimuli (5 s duration; interstimulus interval 25 s) of set temperatures (47°, 48° and 49°C) during the rubber hand illusion or during a control condition. There was a main effect of stimulus temperature on pain ratings, but no main effect of condition (p?=?0.32), nor a condition x temperature interaction (p?=?0.31). In Experiment 2, 20 healthy volunteers underwent quantitative sensory testing to determine heat and cold pain thresholds during the rubber hand illusion or during a control condition. Secondary analyses involved heat and cold detection thresholds and paradoxical heat sensations. Again, there was no main effect of condition on heat pain threshold (p?=?0.17), nor on cold pain threshold (p?=?0.65), nor on any of the secondary measures (p<0.56 for all). We conclude that the rubber hand illusion does not induce analgesia.