Itching can have a visual trigger, new research reveals
(Medical Xpress)—Itching is so contagious that simply seeing an image of an itch stimulus – such as ants or an insect bite – can trigger a physical response, new research suggests.
Researchers from The University of Manchester and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) say their findings – published in the British Journal of Dermatology – could be of benefit to patients with skin conditions like eczema.
The team tested whether visual cues could generate feelings of itch and provoke a scratch response. A secondary aim was to assess whether the content of some pictures more effectively evoked these sensations. The study also revealed that simply watching someone scratch may trigger feelings of itchiness, just like seeing someone yawn can be contagious.
Thirty participants viewed static images that could either be itch-related (for example ants, fleas or skin conditions) or neutral (butterflies or healthy skin). The itch-evoking images were further split into three sub-categories: 'skin contact' (for example ants crawling on the hand or a butterfly on a finger), 'skin response' (scratching an insect bite or washing the hands) or 'context only', in which itchy or neutral stimuli were seen in the environment but not on the body (for example viewing midges or birds flying, with no reference to skin).
For each picture, the volunteers were asked how itchy they felt looking at the image, and how itchy they thought the person in the picture felt, where relevant. In addition, the researchers recorded the number of times the volunteers scratched themselves while looking at the images.
The scientists discovered that visual cues alone (without application of any irritant to the skin) do indeed elicit sensations of itch in an observer and provoke a scratch response.
Furthermore, watching something that we associate with itchiness causes us to admit to feeling itchy, but in fact it is watching another person scratch themselves (rather than just seeing the cause of the itch) that causes us to subconsciously scratch ourselves also, without necessarily vocalising this or knowing we are doing it.
Professor Francis McGlone, a cognitive neuroscientist at LJMU and the study's lead author, explained: "The results of the present study confirm that visual cues pertaining to itch-related events are effective in transmitting the sensation of itch from the visual to the somatosensory domain (the body's system relating to the sensation of touch) and provoking a scratch response. The results suggest that, whereas the sensation of itch may be effectively transmitted by viewing others experiencing itch-related stimuli on the body, the desire to scratch is more effectively provoked by viewing others scratching.
"Our findings may help to improve the efficiency of treatment programmes for people suffering from chronic itch. Knowing the specific triggers of an individual's chronic itch and how visual stimuli translate to the physical may also provide insight into the mechanisms of 'psychosomatic itch', in which there are no physical triggers."
Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists said: "Itch is often the worst symptom for people with skin disorders, and any research into its causes that may lead to new methods of alleviation will be greatly welcomed by the millions of skin patients. Combining elements of psychology with dermatology is an increasingly important area of research."
More information: The article, 'Can itch-related visual stimuli alone provoke a scratchresponse in healthy individuals?' by D. M. Lloyd , E. Hall, S. Hall and F. P. McGlone, is published in the British Journal of Dermatology.
Journal reference: British Journal of Dermatology
Provided by University of Manchester
- Body location plays part in scratching pleasure Jan 27, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Study looks at effect of emotions on pain and itch intensity Mar 16, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Do your neuroses make you more prone to 'contagious' itching? Nov 13, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Research suggests why scratching is so relieving Jan 31, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Burning pain and itching governed by same nerve cells Nov 04, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Why is zone 1 in liver more prone to ischemic injury?
1 hour ago Hi, Is it because around central vein, there is only deoxygenated blood from the vein where as in the periphery there is hepatic artery. Also why...
How can there be villous adenoma in colon, if there are no villi there
21 hours ago As title suggest. Thanks :smile:
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
May 21, 2013 Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
Every day, their baby stopped breathing, his collapsed bronchus blocking the crucial flow of air to his lungs. April and Bryan Gionfriddo watched helplessly, just praying that somehow the dire predictions ...
Medical research 11 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 0
The human gut is loaded with commensal bacteria – "good" microbes that, among other functions, help the body digest food. The gastrointestinal tract contains literally trillions of such cells, and yet the ...
Medical research 15 hours ago | 5 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Swiss scientists reveal the mechanism responsible for aging hidden deep within mitochondria—and dramatically slow it down in worms by administering antibiotics to the young.
Medical research 15 hours ago | 4.9 / 5 (7) | 0 |
On May 22, JoVE will publish details of a technique to measure the health of human genetic material in relation to a patient's age. The method is demonstrated by the laboratory of Dr. Gil Atzmon at New York's Albert Einste ...
Medical research 19 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health have a new theory as to why a woman's fertility declines after her mid-30s. They also suggest an approach that might help slow ...
Medical research 20 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London have led the largest sequencing study of human disease to date, investigating the genetic basis of six autoimmune diseases.
15 hours ago | 4.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion—the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.
12 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 2 |
Existing research shows that bicyclists who wear helmets have an 88 percent lower risk of brain injury, but researchers at Boston Children's Hospital found that simply having bicycle helmet laws in place showed a 20 percent ...
4 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(HealthDay)—Migraines and depression can each cause a great deal of suffering, but new research indicates the combination of the two may be linked to something else entirely—a smaller brain.
12 hours ago | 4 / 5 (2) | 0 |
A new approach for immunizing against influenza elicited a more potent immune response and broader protection than the currently licensed seasonal influenza vaccines when tested in mice and ferrets. The vaccine ...
13 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
In a series of lab experiments designed to unravel the workings of a key enzyme widely considered a possible trigger of rheumatoid arthritis, researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that in the most severe ...
14 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |