Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences say flicking through childhood pictures and remembering good old days may be a drug-free way for people to alleviate low level pain
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Flicking through childhood pictures and reminiscing about the good old days can actually relieve pain, scientists have found.
Study participants were shown a series of 26 nostalgic images while hooked up to an fMRI machine and administered varying amounts of pain from a heat generator attached to their wrist.
Researchers say nostalgia may be a drug-free way for people to alleviate low level pain.
Professor Huajian Cai, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: “As a predominantly positive emotion, nostalgia serves various adaptive functions, including a recently revealed analgesic effect.
“Human participants’ behaviour results showed that the nostalgia paradigm significantly reduced participants’ perception of pain, particularly at low pain intensities.”
The images featured scenes and items from a so-called “average childhood” like a popular cartoon TV show, schoolyard game or sweeties.
Another group was exposed to a different series of images showing scenes and items from modern life.
Lower levels of pain were recorded for the same heat levels administered from the wrist strap, for those looking at nostalgic images.
The bitter-sweet images also reduced activity in two parts of the brain, known to be involved in pain perception – the left lingual gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus.
Another region dubbed the thalamus was also found to play a role in relaying nostalgia information to parts of the brain associated with pain perception.
Prof Cai added: “The current study results reveal that the thalamus, as a critical brain region for pain modulation, is also related to the analgesic effect associated with nostalgia.
“These findings demonstrate the analgesic effect of nostalgia and, more importantly, shed light on its neural mechanism.”
The findings are published in the journal JNeurosci.