Brain study suggests that distractions ease dread – The Boston Globe

In the first high-tech exploration of the biology of ”dread,” researchers at Emory University found that even before the shock was administered to a person’s foot, activity appeared in one of the brain’s pain centers. In particular, dread activated a part of the brain having to do with attention to pain, implying that distraction — like watching TV — helps reduce the dread.

Human’s perceptions of fear and pain are very ingrained emotions, so while the researchers were surprised to find that the anticipation of pain was in the rear of the brain rather than the front, I’m not sure most researchers would share that surprise. Avoidance of pain has been shown for decades to be a very core behavior in mice and humans. Nobody likes pain.

So yes, distraction as a technique works very well to help people keep their minds off of upcoming pain and to avoid the dread associated with fear. All this study did was pinpoint where in the brain this effect occurs. It really has no impact on people’s current or future treatments when undergoing painful procedures or such in medicine. But it does contribute to our general understanding of how the brain processes pain and pain anticipation.