Virtual reality technology has been used in the past to help reduce the pain experienced during difficult to endure procedures, such as the SnowWorld game designed to help assist with bandage changes on burn victims. The actual mechanism how virtual reality actually numbs the pain was not properly studied, the assumption seems to have been that distraction is really what virtual reality does for pain.
Researchers have now tested this assumption under new circumstances, including a cold pressor lab setup and real world dental procedures during which patients wore virtual reality headsets. They were immersed in two very different environments, one a calm beachside walk and the other a busy urban situation full of distractions. Turns out the calming scene was significantly better at improving how people experience and remember the pain they have endured during tooth extractions and fillings.
While this was not entirely unpredictable, the study does point to it being important what kinds of virtual reality environments are used to help alleviate pain. Moreover, there might be a lot more variations in this field that may point to certain virtual situations being better for certain types of pain or procedures.
Study in journal Environment and Behavior: The Soothing Sea: A Virtual Coastal Walk Can Reduce Experienced and Recollected Pain…