Pain perception can be drastically affected by external factors in the surrounding environment. Previous studies relying on subjective ratings of pain have shown that guided meditations supplemented by virtual reality (VR) can reduce the perception of pain more successfully than the audio alone. The research question for this study was: How does the efficacy of meditation as a means of pain mitigation differ with and without the application of VR? To answer this question, we used fNIRS to visualize changes in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which has been shown to play a role in the larger pain matrix in the brain. To induce discomfort, we used a Cold Pressor Arm Wrap (CPAW), which is a variation of the more common Cold Pressor Task (CPT). This study was a within-subjects design where in each of the three conditions participants experienced CPAW. The three conditions were: (1) control (no VR & no audio), (2) audio (audio only), and (3) VR (audio + VR). We hypothesized that there would be a decrease in cortical activity in the DLPFC during CPAW when supplemented by VR meditation compared to audio-led meditation and no meditation, due to a decrease in perceived pain in the VR condition. Our results showed that VR meditation did significantly reduce perceived pain, according to the subjective pain ratings. Participants rated their discomfort the lowest in the VR condition, slightly higher in the audio condition, and highest for the control condition (in the absence of meditation). However, there were no significant differences in activity in the DLPFC between the conditions. The lack of any significant findings with the fNIRS data could be the result of many issues, including not having a large enough sample, physiological noise, improper localization of the pain ROIs, and not having a strong enough discomfort stimulus. The future directions for this study would seek to remedy these issues in order to obtain more informative fNIRS results. Overall, this study did show that VR meditation does effectively reduce pain perception and is therefore a promising tool for nonpharmacological pain management.
Bachelor of Science (B.S.)
College of Sciences
Sammarco, Jordan, "Measuring Brain Activity Using fNIRS During Discomfort Mitigation with VR Meditation" (2023). Honors Undergraduate Theses. 1417.