Much research has been done into the mind-body connection—the relationship between thoughts, moods and attitudes on physiological health. New research shows that simply looking at one’s own body can reduce pain.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) and the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy, teamed up for the study. They found that viewing one’s hand reduces the pain experienced when a hot object touches the skin. Furthermore, the level of pain depends on how large the hand looked. The larger the hand, the greater the effect of pain reduction, according to a UCL press release.

“The image that the brain forms of our own body has a strong effect on the experienced level of pain,” said Flavia Mancini, the first author of the study. “Moreover, the way the body is represented influences the level of pain experienced.”

When the hand was seen as smaller than its true size, participants reported pain at lower temperatures than when viewing the hand at its normal size.

This suggests that the experience of pain arises in parts of the brain that represent the size of the body, the press release noted. The scientists’ visual trick may have influenced the brain’s spatial maps of the skin. The results suggest that the processing of pain is closely linked to these brain maps of the skin.

“Visual distortion of body size modulates pain perception” was published in the journal Psychological Science.

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