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Carly's avatar

Does this psychology experiment have a specific name, or is it something my teacher made up?

Asked by Carly (4555points) February 10th, 2012

A few years ago I was in a psychology class with a teacher who showed us an experiment. First he asked our class to raise our heads if any of us has a headache, even a small one. About a third of the class did. Then he told these people (including myself) to relax and close our eyes, breathe deep and then do what he told us to do:

First he had us think about the area of where our headache was. Then we were supposed to visualize the general size of it. Then we were supposed to imagine the shape of it, and then finally we were supposed to imagine the color of it (if it had one). He then asked us who stopped having a headache, and to everyone’s surprise, most people raised their hands, including me.

Have any of you heard of this experiment? I’m not sure if this is something he made up to explain metaphysics, or if it was an experiment that he was using from someone famous who did that kind of research.

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16 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I don’t know if it has a name, but I use that technique often to get rid of headaches. For me, it works 9 times out of 10.

Edit to add: I learned it back in the early 80s.

auhsojsa's avatar

Maybe it has to do with decarbonizing and oxygizing :P

wildpotato's avatar

This is a common visualization technique for pain, including headaches. Here is another example of it. Just google “visualize headache” and you will see many links describing variations on it. I don’t know who began the technique, but my guess is that it’s a folk remedy many people independently invented and then passed down.

This does not have much to do with metaphysics, which is, by and large, the study of the structure of existence and it’s properties (space/time). The technique does add to the account of the phenomenology of pain, and discussion of this can lead into metaphysical questions – such as in this unique class I took a few years ago. But the branch of philosophy that would be most interested in the above is philosophy of mind (which studies the interactions of mind, body, world, and language), or perhaps aesthetics (studies the effect humans have on themselves in terms of what they create – visual impression, manipulation, and symbolization are a part of this).

mattbrowne's avatar

Placebo treatment.

cazzie's avatar

As a frequent sufferer of pain, I can tell you that visualisation works to a point. Being able to close your eyes and relax for 10 minutes in class, whether you are thinking of soft fluffy bunnies, or what colour your headache is, will probably alleviate most mild headaches. There is nothing mystical going on.

@mattbrowne it would only be a placebo if they were told before hand that what he was about to do would cure their headaches. It didn’t sound like that was part of the experiment.

mattbrowne's avatar

@cazzie – You might be right. I’ve heard of interventions that were complex in design on purpose and therefore sounded powerful. Might not apply to this one.

longtresses's avatar

And you probably don’t remember the professor’s name either? He could still be teaching the same course..

Buttonstc's avatar

Creative visualization is not just used for headaches. It has been uto sed as a powerful adjunct to treatment for cancer.

Bernie Siegel , MD, a reknowned. Cancer surgeon is a pioneer in the field of mind body medicine and has taught and written numerous books on the subject. Yes, thats right. Hes a surgeon and NOT a quack one either.

Its obviously more than merely placebo if it can shrink tumors.

What your prof. Did is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are profound truths involved with this.

john65pennington's avatar

I tried this for a migraine headache and it did not not work.

Nothing works for a migraine headaches, other than a pain shot and deep sleep.

cazzie's avatar

I agree, @john65pennington . I used to end up in the ER with dehydration (from puking) and just crippled with pain. Some pain just needs good drugs. I used to use the imagery techniques for trying to sleep when I felt them just coming on or for when I finally got the drugs and needed to relax and let them work. I could never take morphine type pain relief.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@john65pennington I agree. I, myself, have chronic migraines. Visualization does nothing for my headaches whatsoever.

auhsojsa's avatar

@john65pennington I used to suffer from regular Migraines. Usually they were triggered by lack of caffeine. I used to load up on the 42oz 69cents soda at McDonalds and boy I tell ya, 20 minutes later after downing the Coke I was up and ready. Of course I gained a bunch of weight.

But @carly my wife just tried this method and unfortunately for her it didn’t work. She got to the step where she could visualize a color and decided it was light blue, but she said it had no shape. Maybe it works more with groups. And I agree with @mattbrowne placebo.

Buttonstc's avatar

Migraines are their own distinct category and the etiology has far more to do with vascular situations than anything else. Thats why caffeine wirks for some people.

Before the development of modern medications, one of the mainstay drugs for migraine treatment was not necessarily painkillers but a med called Caffergot. Thats right. Caffeine Plus another ingredient. Obviously a lot more caffeine than found in either soda or coffee.

I’m not at all surprised that visualization does not work for migraine since the cause is clearly physiological.

However, one other method found successful is the use of biofeedback technology for a person to learn to control bloodlflow (not normally a case of mind over matter

Nor placebo) since its not a conscious ability.

Mr_Paradox's avatar

This is called the Placebo Effect. Your mind does all the work.

LostInParadise's avatar

This sounds very much like Eastern meditation techniques. The trick is to keep one’s mind focused on the source of pain. It seems counter-intuitive at first. You would think that the trick is to find some way of becoming distracted from the pain. I am sorry to hear that it does not work for migraines. I have never tried this for a headache. When I meditate, I sometimes develop an itch and find that by focusing attention on it, it will eventually go away.

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