Neurocognitive evidence for mental imagery
Clinical investigations have shown the relevance of mental imagery as a strategy to alter pain, but the modulatory effects on pain perception remain unclear. This study provides evidence for mental imagery-driven hypoalgesic and hyperalgesic pain regulation.
Mental imagery (the internal representation of a perceptual experience) has been the focus of many clinical investigations to determine the effectiveness on pain. It is known to rely on similar cognitive and neural mechanisms as those of actual perception, but is unclear how these mechanisms can modulate pain perception. The aim of this study was to investigate whether imagery effects depend on redirecting attention away from pain or by directly acting on sensory or affective pain processing.
Participants (n=21) were asked to use suggested mental images to inhibit, facilitate or experience pre-identified painful and non-painful stimuli. Participants were asked to judge each stimulus as either painful or non-painful as quickly as possible and evaluate their pain experience whilst behavioural and ERP responses (EEG) were recorded.
Using mental images to both actively inhibit and facilitate pain moved the subjective pain experience to the imagined outcome and further showed changes in perceived pain intensity and unpleasantness. Moreover, mental imagery altered measured brain activity (N2 ERPs) reflecting complex pain- and somatosensory-related processes. Overall, the results suggest that mental imagery has the potential to influence pain-related decision and evaluative processing and may be a relevant strategy for advancing clinical understanding and management of pain.
How would you use mental imagery in a clinical setting?
> From: Fardo et al., Neuroimage xxx (2015) xxx(Epub ahead of print). All rights reserved to Elsevier Inc. . Click here for the Pubmed summary.