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London - It is age-old advice handed down by school nurses to generations of children receiving their regular jabs. Now scientists have found looking away during an injection really does make them less painful.

A study in the appropriately titled medical journal Pain, found that removing fearful anticipation helped to remove the sting of an injection.

Researchers from the University of Medicine in Berlin and University Medical Centre in Hamburg found your past experience of needle pricks influences how you react later on.

They asked a group of volunteers to watch video clips showing a hand being pricked by a needle, a hand being touched by a cotton bud and a hand on its own.

The screen was positioned in such a way that it looked as if it might be the volunteer’s own hand they were watching.

While they viewed the clips, small electrical stimuli were passed through their own hand, some painful and others painless.

The volunteers reported that they felt the most pain during the clips of a needle pricking a hand compared to the cotton bud or hand-alone clips.

This was backed up by the results of monitoring their eyes and watching for pupil dilation – a sign of activity in the nervous system, stimulated by pain.

Lead researcher Marion Holfe said: “Throughout our lives we repeatedly experience that needles cause pain when pricking our skin.

“But expectations, such as the information given by the doctor prior to an injection, may also influence how viewing needle pricks affects pain.”

Holfe said the simple advice from a nurse to “look away now” works because it reduces a patient’s expectation about the “strength of forthcoming pain”.

She added: “Viewing a needle prick leads to enhanced pain perception as well as to enhanced autonomic nervous system activity.

“We’ve provided empirical evidence in favour of the common advice not to look at the needle prick when receiving an injection.” – Daily Mail