21 Sep 2015

York St John alumna praised for research into pain tolerance

news604A recent Psychology graduate from York St John University has had her research into the use of virtual reality as a pain management tool praised by leading academics in the field.

Sarah Johnson’s final year dissertation was presented to experts and pioneers in the field of virtual reality research in a poster session at the 20th Annual Cyberpsychology, Cybertherapy and Social Networking Conference held at the University of California San Diego. Her research was presented alongside that of principal investigators, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows.

The research was completed under the supervision of Dr Matthew Coxon, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at York St John University, and made use of the very latest virtual reality technology available in the labs at York St John.

Commenting on Sarah’s achievement, Dr Coxon said: “It is very rare for undergraduate students to have their work presented at international conferences like this and her work did not look out of place alongside that of researchers from all around the world. It was mentioned several times that the research was of a publishable standard and this is a route which is being pursued.”

Sarah’s research looked at the concept of increasing pain tolerance by using virtual reality. Participants were asked to submerge their hand in ice cold water (1 degrees C) for as long as possible. The amount of time they kept their hand in the water was recorded as their pain tolerance. Whilst their hand was submerged participants also interacted with a virtual reality game. The game made use of the latest virtual reality technology (the Oculus Rift, DK2) and the inclusion of sound was varied systematically.

Through this research Sarah found that sound was very important in promoting the analgesic effect of virtual reality - the pain tolerance of her participants significantly increased when sound was included. She also found that the combination of the sound with the virtual reality game was particularly important, surpassing both the sound on its own and the game on its own. This has important implications for clinicians and other health professionals who may make use of virtual reality technology in the near future.

Picture shows participant wearing virtual reality equipment at York St John University