Next time you find yourself in excruciating pain, you should take a pill you think will make you feel better while solving a puzzle! At least, that's what a new study shows, debunking the idea that the placebo effect is a high-level cognitive function.
In other words, scientist folks used to think that you could use placebo (the pill you think will make you feel better) or distraction (the puzzle) to experience pain relief because they both activate the same part of the brain in creating said pain relief. This is untrue: it turns out they target different parts of the brain.
As logically follows, doing both is the best way to avoid pain.
Jason T. Buhle, a Columbia University author of the study, said neuroimaging — what most laypeople would assume is the best way to test which part of the brain is working during placebo or distraction — didn't work.
"Neuroimaging is great," says Buhle, "but because each brain region does many things, when you see activation in a particular area, you don't know what cognitive process is driving it."
So the study used direct behavioral observation: participants were tested by receiving minor burns. Some lucky ones were then given just the pain, some the placebo, some the distraction, some both. As you've guessed, those with both reported the least pain.
So keep a crossword in the kitchen and some pills (that someone fooled you into think are real — this part is difficult), and next time the mac-and-cheese water spills over and attacks, you're prepared.