Researchers train subjects' brains to experience less pain

Could listening to a piece of audio on your headphones, or popping on a head-up display, make you more tolerant of pain? Research coming out of the U.K.’s University of Manchester certainly suggests so.

Researchers from the Human Pain Research Group (yes, this is a thing that exists outside of an Eli Roth movie) were interested in inducing alpha waves in the human brain to counter distress. One of the five different types of frequencies in the brain — others include delta waves, theta waves, beta waves, and gamma waves — alpha waves have been shown to be linked to calm and reduced anxiety.

“The project started with my colleague, Dr. Chris Brown, who does a lot of work with meditation,” researcher Katharina Ecsy told Digital Trends. “Using brain imaging, he found that people who meditate experience less pain, and that this was linked with alpha power. We wanted to find a way to make these brain changes available to everyday people who don’t meditate, as more of a quick-fix solution.”

In recent years, meditation has increasingly been used in medicine, as a recommended habit for people suffering from chronic pain conditions. However, since learning to properly meditate can take years, Manchester’s new research could represent a valuable advance.

For the study, participants were beamed with pulses of light or sound at a frequency between 8 and 12 Hz, which have been shown to generate alpha waves.

“The brain has the ability to adapt to any frequency in the 1-30 Hz range when it is stimulated,” Ecsy continued. “For example, that could be the ticking of a metronome or any other kind of steady rhythm that the brain can mimic. As a result, your brain cells start firing at that frequency and amplify it in the brain.”

After this, subjects were shot with a heat-generating laser on the back of their arms. Participants who had received alpha wave stimulation reported experiencing significantly less pain than those who had been exposed to a placebo non-alpha wave brain stimulation.

Of the subjects who had had the true alpha wave experience, those who were given the visual stimulus — involving flashes of light administered while wearing goggles — found it to be the most effective.

“In the future, we think it may be possible to let patients choose between visual and auditory stimuli,” Ecsy said. “In the case of the auditory example, this could be something that people suffering from chronic pain can listen to as they go to sleep, or even walk around listening to. In the case of the auditory stimulus, technologies like Google Glass are developing very quickly. That could be an exciting use-case.”


MIT science photographer isn’t an artist, but her work could fill galleries

Felice Frankel is an award-winning photographer, but she doesn't consider herself an artist. As a science photographer, she has been helping researchers better communicate their ideas for nearly three decades with eye-catching imagery.
Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.
Product Review

Meet Z6, the breakout star in Nikon's new mirrorless lineup

The Nikon Z6 is the sibling to the new mirrorless Z7 -- but for some photographers, the cheaper Z6 may be the better option. Read where the $2,000 camera beats the $3,400 one (and where it doesn’t) in our Nikon Z6 review.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Emerging Tech

Full-fledged drone delivery service set to land in remote Canadian community

Some drone delivery operations seem rather crude in their execution, but Drone Delivery Canada is building a comprehensive platform that's aiming to take drone delivery to the next level.
Emerging Tech

It’s no flying car, but the e-scooter had a huge impact on city streets in 2018

Within just a year, electric scooters have fundamentally changed how we navigate cities. From San Francisco to Paris, commuters have a new option that’s more fun than mass transit, easier than a bike, and definitely not a car.

Print your heart’s desire: Enter our giveaway to win a free Monoprice 3D printer

We’re giving away a $400 Monoprice MP Voxel 3D Printer. It's easy to use, especially for beginners, with its simple menu system and touchscreen display. It comes fully assembled so you can spend more time printing instead of setting up.
Emerging Tech

Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Intel has signed a deal to use its Falcon 8+ drones to carry out bridge inspections. The hope is that these drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.
Emerging Tech

An A.I. cracks the internet’s squiggly letter bot test in 0.5 seconds

How do you prove that you’re a human when communicating on the internet? The answer used to be by solving a CAPTCHA puzzle. But maybe not for too much longer. Here is the reason why.
Emerging Tech

Makerbot is back with a new 3D printer that’s faster and more precise than ever

MakerBot's new Method 3D printer aims to bridge the gap between home 3D printers and more industrial 3D printing tech. Here are a few of the tantalizing things you can expect from it.
Emerging Tech

Warm ski beanie instantly hardens into a head-protecting helmet upon impact

Wool hats are way more comfortable than hard helmets. You know what they're not? Safer. That could soon change, thanks to an innovative new ski beanie which instantly hardens upon impact.

Take to the skies with these 5 drones on sale for under $50

On the hunt for some cool tech for under $50? We've rounded up 5 drones under $50 that you can still get before Christmas. These models are great for kids, adults, and anyone just getting started with drones.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…