Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chance find of optical illusion that eases arthritis pain without drugs

85% improvement is about as good as you get -- way above placebo. I guess it's a kind of hypnotism

A trick of the mind could relieve the pain of arthritis, claim psychologists. In a discovery made by accident, people with the condition found a simple computer-generated optical illusion could soothe pain.

Nottingham University academics hope the experiment might one day enable more people to harness their unconscious to tackle ailments. The technology, called Mirage, helped arthritis patients improve the mobility of their hands by halving the pain they felt in fingers.

A small number of sufferers were asked to place their hands inside a box containing a camera, which then projected the image on to a screen in front of them. The technology allowed them to see their arthritic fingers being apparently stretched and shrunk. In fact, someone was gently pushing and pulling their fingers from the other side of the box and the camera created the illusion of huge stretching and shrinking. In 85 per cent of cases it halved the pain.

Mirage was first used as part of a educational project on the way our brains put together what we see and feel happening to our bodies.

Dr Roger Newport, who is leading the research in the School of Psychology, said: ‘The majority of people who come to these fun events are kids – the illusions really capture their imagination and they think it’s a cool trick.’

But it was one of their grandparents who discovered a healing effect by chance. Dr Catherine Preston, who is collaborating on the study and is now at Nottingham Trent University, said: ‘The grandmother wanted to have a go, but warned us to be gentle because of arthritis in her fingers.

‘We were giving a practical demonstration of illusory finger stretching when she announced “My finger doesn’t hurt any more” and asked whether she could take the machine home with her. ‘We were just stunned – I don’t know who was more surprised, her or us.’

The psychologists then recruited 20 volunteers aged around 70 with osteoarthritis to test out the Mirage technology. All had been diagnosed with arthritic pain in their hands and fingers, and were asked to rate their pain during the illusion.

Many of those tested said they felt less pain in their hands and fingers when the image appeared to show them being stretched, while others got relief when the image showed them shrinking. Some said they were in less pain when stretched and shrunk.

In a third of those taking part, the treatment stopped the pain entirely. It was found the illusion only worked when the painful part of the hands was being manipulated.


School Lunch Madness

Back in the Stone Age, I brought my noon meal to school in a Davy Crockett lunchbox. It was made of cheap metal, and had I eaten it, the taste would have been similar to the sandwich inside, usually bologna or tuna on soggy bread. My mother also included an apple (usually thrown, not ingested) and some Mallomar cookies: 800 calories each.

According to an article in The Chicago Tribune, my standard lunch would not have been acceptable at the Little Village Academy public school in the Windy City. The principal, Elsa Carmona, is quoted as saying that her students can either eat the school cafeteria food or "go hungry." Wow! Tough dietary deal.

Carmona went on to say that some parents are morons who allow their children to eat garbage and that is not going to happen on her watch. The Tribune quotes her: "It's about ... the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke."

Many students at the Little Village Academy qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Those who don't pay $2.25 for a meal. Some parents say that $11.25 for the week is far more than the brown bag lunches cost.

Predictably, Carmona's edict caused an outcry, and now she says she was misquoted by the Tribune. Her lunch opinion is not a mandate, just a suggestion, she insists. But this story is not exactly an analysis of the federal budget. It strains credulity that the Trib got it wrong. What most likely happened is that Carmona took some heat from on high and is backtracking.

About one third of American kids are now overweight, and poorer children are the most likely to be in that category. So, educators are correct to be concerned about the nutritional welfare of their students. Every school should be encouraging good health, right?

But forcing parents to buy school food is going too far. This is nanny state stuff. I know that under President Obama the nation is heading in that direction, but it is now time to pause and smell the meatloaf.

Parents are the primary caregivers when it comes to raising children. The school educates kids, but it has no right to dictate lifestyle choices. If there is a problem that impacts a student's ability to learn or socialize, the school has an obligation to bring the situation to the parents' attention. But telling kids what they can eat at lunchtime usurps parental authority.

It is true that some parents usurp their own authority by neglecting their children or acting like nitwits in making decisions for them. But that is the price of a free society. The government cannot legislate good parenting, even though it has spent trillions of dollars trying.

The folks running the Little Village Academy need to wise up about this free society business. In America, we allow freedom of choice. And while kids can't choose their parents and vice-versa, when it comes to choosing the meal plan, parents should rule.


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