Crossing your arms after burning your hand or suffering an injury could lessen pain, research suggests.
Scientists found that crossing the arms across the body may confuse the brain about where pain is occurring. Researchers think the theory has most impact on pain felt in the hands, and have not yet tested it on other parts of the body.
A team from University College London (UCL) used a laser to generate a four millisecond pin prick of pure pain (without touch) on the hands of eight people. The test was then repeated with the arms crossed. The participants recorded their perception of the intensity of the pain, and their electrical brain responses were also measured using scans.
The reports and the scans revealed that people’s perception of pain was weaker when the arms were crossed. Dr Giandomenico Iannetti, lead author of the paper from the UCL department of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, said: ‘Perhaps when we get hurt, we should not only ‘rub it better’ but also cross our arms.’
In everyday life you mostly use your left hand to touch things on the left side of the world, and your right hand for the right side of the world – for example when picking up a glass of water on your right side you generally use your right hand.’ This means that the areas of the brain that contain the map of the right body and the map of right external space are usually activated together, leading to highly effective processing of sensory stimuli.
‘When you cross your arms these maps are not activated together anymore, leading to less effective brain processing of sensory stimuli, including pain, being perceived as weaker.’
The study, published in the journal Pain, involved crossing arms over the midline (an imaginary line running vertically down the centre of the body), as happens when people cross their arms naturally.