Alpha-range visual and auditory stimulation reduces the perception of pain

Eur J Pain. 2017 Mar;21(3):562-572. doi: 10.1002/ejp.960. Epub 2016 Nov 2.


Background: Alpha power is believed to have an inverse relationship with the perception of pain. Increasing alpha power through an external stimulus may, therefore, induce an analgesic effect. Here, we attempt to modulate the perception of a moderately painful acute laser stimulus by separately entraining three frequencies across the alpha band: 8, 10 and 12 Hz.

Methods: Participants were exposed to either visual or auditory stimulation at three frequencies in the alpha-band range and a control frequency. We collected verbal pain ratings of laser stimuli from participants following 10 minutes of flashing LED goggle stimulation and 10 minutes of binaural beat stimulation across the alpha range. Alterations in sleepiness, anxiety and negative mood were recorded following each auditory or visual alpha-rhythm stimulation session.

Results: A significant reduction in pain ratings was found after both the visual and the auditory stimulation across all three frequencies compared with the control condition. In the visual group, a significantly larger reduction was recorded following the 10-Hz stimulation than succeeding the 8- and 12-Hz conditions.

Conclusions: This study suggests that a short presentation of auditory and visual stimuli, oscillating in the alpha range, have an analgesic effect on acute laser pain, with the largest effect following the 10-Hz visual stimulation. Pain reductions following stimulation in the alpha range are independent of sleepiness, anxiety, and negative moods.

Significance: This study provides new behavioural evidence showing that visual and auditory entrainment of frequencies in the alpha-wave range can influence the perception of acute pain in humans.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Acoustic Stimulation / instrumentation
  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Alpha Rhythm*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Lasers
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Perception*
  • Photic Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Photic Stimulation / instrumentation
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychophysics
  • Sleep Stages
  • Young Adult