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Pain Res Manag. 2011 Jan-Feb;16(1):27-32.

Electronic gaming as pain distraction.

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Department of Psychological Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The current study investigated whether active distraction reduces participants' experience of pain more than passive distraction during a cold pressor task. In the first experiment, 60 participants were asked to submerge their hand in cold (2°C) water for as long as they could tolerate. They did this with no distraction, and then with active (electronic gaming system) and passive (television) distraction, in randomly assigned order. Tolerance time, pain intensity ratings and task absorption ratings were measured for each condition. A second experiment attempted to control for participants' expectations about the effects of distraction on pain. Forty participants underwent the same experimental procedure, but were given verbal suggestions about the effects of distraction by the experimenter before each distraction condition. Participants in both experiments had a significantly higher pain tolerance and reported less pain with the active distraction compared with passive or no distraction. Participants reported being more absorbed, and were significantly more willing to do the task again when they had the active distraction compared with both passive distraction and no distraction. They also had more enjoyment, less anxiety and greater reduction in pain with active distraction than with passive distraction. There was no effect of suggestion. These experiments offer further support for the use of electronic games as a method of pain control.

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