The Daily Telegraph

Bedtime story transports poorly to a land far from pain

- By Joe Pinkstone

READING a bedtime story to a child can help in alleviatin­g pain, a study suggests.

The activity was found to lower levels of cortisol, a chemical associated with stress, and boosted levels of the socalled cuddle hormone oxytocin, which is linked to empathy.

The children themselves also reported feeling better after a storytelle­r whisked their imaginatio­n off to a faraway land.

Researcher­s in Brazil found playing a riddle-based game made the children feel better as well, but the effect was twice as strong for lightheart­ed stories. Eighty-one children aged two to seven in an intensive care ward in a Sao Paulo hospital were enrolled in the study.

Patients suffered from a range of complaints, including asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. Half the children were read stories for half an hour while the others participat­ed in a 30-minute brain-teaser session.

Saliva samples were taken from each child before and after their activity and analysed for levels cortisol and oxytocin. “The storytelli­ng was done individual­ly; the child chose which story would be told,” study author Dr Guilherme Brockingto­n, from the Federal University of ABC, said. “Among the books offered, we chose titles available in ordinary book stores and without a pre-defined emotional bias, so that the story would not influence the child’s reaction so much after the activity.”

The scientists, writing in the journal PNAS, said the storytelli­ng was effective because of a phenomenon known as “narrative transporta­tion”.

“The child, through fantasy, can experience sensations and thoughts that transport him or her to another world, a place that is different from the hospital room and is, therefore, far from the aversive conditions of hospitalis­ation,” said Dr Brockingto­n.

Dr Jorge Moll, from Brazil’s D’OR Institute for Research and Education, said reading stories to children was an extremely safe and low-cost method of pain relief. Storytelli­ng to distract and improve the condition of children is already in use among some paediatric­ians, but the benefits were largely based on anecdotal evidence.

This study, the researcher­s say, is the first conclusive and quantitati­ve proof of its benefits.

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