Category Archives: The Conversation

Can a virtual reality game make you forget you’re in pain?

My new piece at The Conversation

A couple of weeks from now I will be in hospital undergoing a knee replacement. It will be the most extreme surgery I’ve ever experienced and I’m pretty scared. I’ve been told that I can expect to endure excruciating pain afterwards but I won’t be allowed to lie in bed feeling sorry for myself. In order to ensure a good recovery I have to get up and exercise the new joint numerous times a day. Make no mistake, this is going to hurt.

It may not be too long, however, until patients like me will be able to ward off their agonies simply by playing virtual reality games. This surprising advance is already being tested, but the premise behind it is not new.

As neuroscientist David Linden recently explained on NPR, the brain has more control over pain than we might at first imagine. It can say “hey that’s interesting, turn up the volume on this pain information that’s coming in”, or it can say “turn down the volume on that and pay less attention to it”. In Linden’s book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind, he discusses how our perception of pain relies on the brain and how it processes information coming from the nervous system. Continue reading Can a virtual reality game make you forget you’re in pain?

Talking to houseplants might make them happy, but one app calls for a deeper connection

How good are you at caring for your houseplants? Come to that, how good are you at caring for yourself? Symbio, a new app still currently in development, will connect your well-being to that of your plants and ensure that all of you thrive. Continue reading Talking to houseplants might make them happy, but one app calls for a deeper connection

Changing a landscape with the power of your mind is hugely relaxing

Looking over the landscape I could see an old tree standing frozen and seemingly dead, its branches coated with icy rime. Around it, mossy grass and small rocks lay beneath a coating of snow and in the distance glistening waterfalls tumbled down the sides of whitened mountains. It looked like the wilds of Ireland in wintertime, but the view existed only in my phone. My task, using a handheld biosensor called PIP, was to bring summer to this deeply cold outdoor scene by the powers of mental relaxation.

The device – the brainchild of developer Daragh McDonnell, who started work on it in 2004 at Media Lab Europe (the ill-fated European partner of the MIT Media Lab) – connects to your phone or tablet via bluetooth and works by sensing electrical changes at the surface of the skin which indicate stress levels. This data is then passed by Bluetooth into The Loom, a mobile app that uses biofeedback to help you measure, understand and manage your stress levels. Continue reading Changing a landscape with the power of your mind is hugely relaxing