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Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2014 Jun;17(6):335-45. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2014.0054.

Psychological factors influencing the effectiveness of virtual reality-based analgesia: a systematic review.

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1 Psychology Department, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore , Milan, Italy .


The experience of pain is affected by remarkable psychological factors. The concept of neuromatrix suggests that pain is an amalgam of affect, cognition, and sensation mediated through diverse brain regions. Moreover, the experience of pain appears to be reduced by environmental stimuli that drive attention away from the noxious events. Accordingly, immersion in a computer-generated, three-dimensional virtual environment has been used as an efficient distraction tool in a number of studies on pain management. However, no systematic approaches have explored the psychological factors that influence the effectiveness of virtual reality (VR) as a distraction technology. This review aims to outline the fundamental psychological factors involved in the use of VR to provide pain management. An analysis of the literature revealed some important elements associated with the patients' subjective experience. Eleven studies met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. The results suggest the importance of different psychological factors in the effectiveness of the analgesic distraction. While sense of presence influence the effectiveness of VR as a distraction tool, anxiety as well as positive emotions directly affect the experience of pain. Future challenges for pain management via VR include adopting properly validated measures to assess psychological factors and using different experimental conditions to better understand their complex effects.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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