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Reducing acute pain through computer-generated distraction in children

This study compares the effectiveness of two interactive, computer-generated distractions (CD-ROM games vs. Virtual Reality (VR) entertainment) in reducing laboratory-induced pain (foot immersion in ice cold water) in the domains of pain sensitivity and pain tolerance.

Twenty-one healthy volunteers (11 males, mean age 13 yrs.) were randomized to either the CD-ROM intervention or the VR intervention and underwent four trials of foot immersion (2 baseline, and 2 intervention). Children were asked to immerse their foot in the water (10° C) for as long as they could up to an uninformed ceiling of 3 minutes. During the intervention trials, children played either a CD-ROM game or experienced VR entertainment while their foot was in the water.

Both of the interventions (VR and CD-ROM) were found to be effective in reducing pain ratings (20% and 31% reduction, respectively) and increasing pain tolerance times (70% and 53% increase, respectively) (p<.01).

These preliminary findings suggest that computer-generated distraction can have a powerful effect on acute laboratory pain. Continuation of the study with a larger sample size will permit evaluation of the roles of age, gender, and coping style on computer-related pain reduction in self-report, behavioral, and physiologic pain response domains. Laboratory findings can then be tested in the clinical setting.

Updated 7/2/2002