Manipulating presence influences the magnitude of virtual reality analgesia

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Excessive pain during medical procedures performed in unanesthetized patients is frequently reported, but can be reduced with virtual reality (VR) distraction. Increasing the person's illusion of going into the virtual world may increase how effectively VR distracts pain. Healthy volunteers aged 18–20 years participated in a double-blind between-groups design. Each subject received a brief baseline thermal pain stimulus, and the same stimulus again minutes later with either a Low Tech or a High Tech VR distraction. Each subject provided subjective 0–10 ratings of cognitive, sensory and affective components of pain, and rated their illusion of going inside the virtual world. Subjects in the High Tech VR group reported a stronger illusion of going into the virtual world (VR presence) than subjects in the Low Tech VR group, (4.2 vs. 2.5, respectively, P=0.009) and more pain reduction (reduction of worst pain is 3.1 for High Tech VR vs. 0.7 for Low Tech VR, P<0.001). Across groups, the amount of pain reduction was positively and significantly correlated with VR presence levels reported by subjects (r=0.48 for ‘worst pain’, P<0.005).

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