The Importance of Being Vocal

"This won't hurt a bit"

 

There aren’t many things in life that are as momentarily unpleasant as stubbing a toe or – even worse – stepping on an upturned plug. But scientists are now realising the effects that the resulting vocalisations can have on helping us deal with the pain.

The recent study from the National University of Singapore – which appeared earlier this year in the Journal of Pain – exposed the hands of 56 subjects to painfully cold water. In each case, the subject was permitted to say ‘ow’, press a button, hear someone else saying ‘ow’, or remain passive and silent.

The results showed that subjects able to say ‘ow’ or press the button were able to keep their hand submerged for an average of 7 seconds longer than those who did neither, and also that hearing a recording of someone else saying ‘ow’ – either their own or another’s voice – had no effect.

Whilst the results are only suggestive, their hypothesis states that the motor processes required to vocalise and/or push a button may somehow disrupt the pain ‘messages’. Whilst an interesting explanation, it’s one that definitely needs a bit more experimental backing up, and it would be interesting to see whether this pain alleviating effect was down to an interference in the actual signalling pathways of pain or the resultant awareness of it.

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Max Sanderson

Science Communicator & Neuroscientist https://humaniapodcast.wordpress.com/
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