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Infant massage has been shown to reduce pain-related behavioural and physiological responses, but the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying this is not fully understood. In adults, slow, stroking touch activates C-tactile (CT) fibres in the skin, which are believed to convey information about pleasant, affective touch.  CT-targeted touch has been demonstrated to reduce adult pain-related brain activity and self reports of pain perception. We test whether CT-targeted touch also reduces pain-related brain activity in infants, by performing slow, gentle stroking touch prior to both experimental and clinically necessary painful procedures, and using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the resulting brain activity. We have published work in eLife and Current Biology to show that gently stroking infants can reduce noxious-evoked brain activity evoked by a heel lance. 

Dr Deniz Gursul talked to doctor and author Monty Lyman about her experiences doing this work as a DPhil student in his recent book The Painful Truth published by Penguin Books and was shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize.


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