Funding sources None.
CLINICAL AND LABORATORY INVESTIGATIONS
Can itch-related visual stimuli alone provoke a scratch response in healthy individuals?
Version of Record online: 21 DEC 2012
© 2012 The Authors. BJD © 2012 British Association of Dermatologists
British Journal of Dermatology
Volume 168, Issue 1, pages 106–111, January 2013
How to Cite
Lloyd, D.M., Hall, E., Hall, S. and McGlone, F.P. (2013), Can itch-related visual stimuli alone provoke a scratch response in healthy individuals?. British Journal of Dermatology, 168: 106–111. doi: 10.1111/bjd.12132
Conflicts of interest None declared.
- Issue online: 21 DEC 2012
- Version of Record online: 21 DEC 2012
- Accepted manuscript online: 22 NOV 2012 12:54AM EST
- Accepted for publication 16 October 2012
Background The sensation of itch and the scratch response elicited by application of histamine are enhanced by itch-related visual cues in people with existing skin conditions and, to a lesser extent, in healthy controls.
Objectives We tested whether visual cues alone could generate feelings of itch and provoke a scratch response in healthy volunteers. A secondary aim was to assess whether the content of some pictures evoked these sensations more effectively.
Methods Thirty participants viewed static images that were either itch-related (e.g. ants, fleas or skin conditions) or neutral (e.g. butterflies or healthy skin). These were further separated by picture type into ‘skin contact’ (e.g. ants crawling on the hand or a butterfly on a finger), ‘skin response’ (e.g. scratching an insect bite or washing the hands) or ‘context only’ (e.g. viewing midges or birds flying).
Results The sensation of itch was successfully generated using itch-related pictures, with higher self-reports of itch in answer to the questions ‘How itchy do you feel?’ and ‘How itchy do you think the person in the picture feels?’, compared with viewing neutral pictures (P < 0·001), and these measures correlated (P ≤ 0·003). Participants also scratched themselves more when viewing itch-related pictures than when viewing neutral ones (P < 0·001). The interaction with picture type was significant, with more scratching behaviour recorded when viewing pictures depicting others scratching (P = 0·01).
Conclusions This study demonstrates the impact of visual cues in eliciting sensations of itch and provoking a scratch response, and may provide behavioural evidence linking contagious itch to the mirror neuron system.