When entrepreneur and former media mogul Arianna Huffington sticks her hand in a bucket of ice water, there’s only so much she can stand before the cold-burning sensation starts to overwhelm.
But with a virtual reality headset strapped on and a nifty video game playing, Huffington can more easily tolerate it.
Huffington demonstrated this on stage during Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference Tuesday in San Diego, taking part in a VR experiment involving pain tolerance with Howard Rose, the CEO of virtual reality health company DeepStream VR.
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First, Rose asked Huffington to put her left hand into the ice bucket, and then asked her how her how it felt.
“So far, so good,” Huffington said. “I’m a tough, Greek peasant girl, so we can take pain.”
After a minute, however, Huffington conceded that the pain started to rise, and that if Rose didn’t give her a time limit, she “might have screamed or put my hand out.” On scale of one to 10, Huffington said she registered a six.
Next Rose gave Huffington an HTC Vive virtual reality headset to wear and told her to start playing around in the virtual world she would be immersed in. Soon enough, Huffington was inside a sort-of virtual winter playground, where she could look at otters and catch fish in a steam.
He then put her hand inside the ice water again, and waited another minute. This time around, Huffington said she registered a 2 on the pain scale when the minute was up.
“That was amazing,” Huffington said. “I had no concern about how much more time was left.”
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Rose explained that virtual reality technology can be used by medical practitioners to help patients deal with pain. The idea is that when patients are occupied in virtual reality environments, the parts of their brains that handle stress and pain “get much quieter,” he said.
Additionally, when a person is immersed in a VR environment during a painful situation like a medical procedure, the brain is able to shift its focus to other functions like coping, cognition, and resilience, Rose said.
“[Virtual reality is] much more than distraction,” Rose said. “This is actually much more akin to cognitive behavioral therapy and bio feedback and those kind of approaches.”
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