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Papers of the Week

Papers: 30 Sep 2023 - 6 Oct 2023

2023 Oct 05

Sci Rep




Environmental influences on induction of itching and scratching using immersive virtual reality.


van de Burgt EWT, van der Mijn R, Fabbri S, Lorist MM


Chronic itching is a serious and uncomfortable condition. The scratch response might result in a vicious cycle of alternating itching and scratching. To develop psychological interventions for people suffering from chronic itching and to break the vicious itch-scratching-itch cycle, it is important to elucidate which environmental factors trigger itch sensations. Virtual reality (VR) techniques provide a useful tool to examine specific content characteristics in a three-dimensional (3D VR) environment and their influences on itch sensations and scratching behaviour. This article describes two experiments in which we focused on the effects of environmental information on itching and scratching behaviour. Additionally, in the second experiment, we examined the influence of having a chronic skin condition on sensitivity to itch induction. We found evidence for the importance of the content of audio-visual materials for the effectiveness in inducing feelings of itch in the observers. In both experiments, we observed significantly higher levels of perceived itch in the itch-inducing conditions than in the control condition. Moreover, the results showed that elevated levels of perceived itch were associated with an increase in scratching behaviours, which was especially salient in the contagious itch condition, in which perceived itch was accompanied by a significant increase in the number of scratches. Experiment 2 additionally showed increased perceived itch levels in participants who reported having a chronic skin condition, reflecting higher sensitivity to itch-inducing audio-visual stimuli in this group than in participants without a chronic skin condition. Based on the results we concluded that directing attention towards itch- or scratch aspects of related information in the environment and to the consequences for one’s own skin are effective tools to induce itch sensations and scratching behaviour. This knowledge provides tools for developing novel strategies in advising and treating people suffering from chronic itching and breaking the vicious itch-scratching-itch cycle.