Introduction: No Pain, Lots of Game

In this project, you will test whether or not video games can increase your tolerance to unpleasant, cold ice water.

Step 1: Background:

Have you ever come home from playing a rough game of sports and looked down and found a bad scrape on your knee? You realize you have no idea when or how you got hurt, because you felt nothing at the time, even though your knee may be really stinging now. This is an example of how distraction can relieve pain, that uncomfortable feeling you get when you are sick or injured.

If you are hurt while you are tired, or in a nervous or worried state of mind, you will often have a greater sensation of pain, but if you are hurt while playing sports and your mind is focused on the game, you will often have a lesser sensation of pain.

Step 2: Materials:

  • Large, flat, heavy bowl or basin
  • Ice cubes, a few trays
  • Cold water
  • Volunteers, at least three
  • Chair
  • Towel
  • Stopwatch
  • Video games
  • Lab notebook

Step 3: Preparing the Ice Water:

  1. Fill the bowl or basin with a single layer of ice cubes.
  2. Add cold water until the ice cubes are just covered.
  3. Measure the temperature of the ice water with a thermometer until the temperature stops changing rapidly, and is stable. Record the temperature of the ice water in your lab notebook.

Step 4: Testing the Volunteer When He or She Is Not Distracted:

  1. Obtain your first volunteer, and have him or her sit in a chair and remove any shoes, sandals, or socks.
  2. Spread a towel out on the floor in front of the chair.
  3. Place the bowl of ice water on top of the towel.
  4. Have the volunteer carefully rest his or her heel on the edge of the bowl, being careful not to tip it over with the weight of his or her foot.
  5. Explain to the volunteer what you want him or her to do: "When I say go, dip all of your toes into the ice water, but keep your heel on the edge of the bowl. When you can't stand the cold anymore, take your toes out of the water."
  6. Set the stopwatch at zero, and then say go, and press start on the stopwatch as the volunteer dips his or her toes into the ice water.
  7. When the volunteer removes his or her toes from the ice water, press stop on the stopwatch and record the time in a data table for this volunteer in your lab notebook. Do not let the volunteer stay in the ice water longer than 3 minutes (cold injury can occur). Stop the test if more than 3 minutes have passed, and find a different test subject. If a volunteer is able to go past 3 minutes without distractions, this volunteer's insensitivity to cold does not make him or her a good test subject for your experiment, and you will need to find somebody else. If you do need to find a new volunteer, repeat the Testing the Volunteer When He or She Is Not Distracted section.

Step 5: Testing the Volunteer While He or She Is Playing Video Games:

  1. Tell the volunteer that you are now going to repeat the test using the other foot, while he or she is playing a video game.
  2. Have the volunteer sit down and play a video game that he or she enjoys for 5 minutes.
  3. When your volunteer has played the video game for at least 5 minutes, spread a towel out on the floor in front of him or her, as before, and place the bowl of ice water on top of the towel.
  4. While the volunteer is playing, have the volunteer rest his or her heel of the other (untested) foot on the edge of the bowl, then have him or her dip the toes into the ice water while you start the stopwatch. Tell your volunteer to remove his or her foot when the water becomes too cold to stand any longer.
  5. Stop the stopwatch when the volunteer removes his or her foot from the ice water. Do not let the volunteer keep his or her foot in the water longer than 3 minutes, to prevent cold injury.
  6. Record the time that your volunteer's toes were in the ice water while he or she was playing a video game in the data table.
  7. Repeat Testing the Volunteer When He or She Is Not Distracted and Testing the Volunteer While He or She is Playing a Video Game for your other two volunteers.
  8. Then repeat Testing the Volunteer When He or She Is Not Distracted and Testing the Volunteer While He or She is Playing a Video Game sections two more times for each volunteer so that each volunteer has tested with and without distractions three times each. Make sure that you separate each volunteer's trial by at least 2 hours to let their feet recover.

Step 6: Data:

  1. Gather your data tables for each volunteer and examine the averages. Do different volunteers have different tolerances to unpleasant sensations?
  2. For each volunteer, subtract the average time that the volunteer was able to keep his or her toes in the ice water without distractions, from the average time that the volunteer was able to keep his or her toes in the ice water while playing a video game, and enter that difference in a data table. Did playing a video game increase the volunteer's tolerance to the cold ice water? By how much? Do you think video games are a good method to help a person manage pain?

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