Despite the many medical benefits, cupping therapy can be difficult for some patients due to unpleasant marks on the skin. As patients are afraid of the potential painful sensation from cupping therapy, the skin reactions might produce vigilance for treatment as pain-related information. We investigated whether individuals show negative emotions and attentional bias toward pain-related residual marks from cupping therapy on the body using an eye-tracking method.
Fifty pain-free volunteers were presented with four different kinds of visual stimulation, such as the back or face region and with or without cupping marks on the skin. A cupping and a control image were presented on one screen with one image on the left side of the screen and the other on the right (locations of the images were counterbalanced across participants). The eye movements of the participants were measured while they viewed the pictures. They completed the Empathy Quotient questionnaire before the experiment and evaluated the unpleasantness level to each image during the task.
Images of the back and face with cupping marks were rated significantly more unpleasant and showed a significant attentional bias (significantly longer percentage fixation time) than the control images (attentional bias score: Back + cupping: 48.1 ± 2.8%; Back: −0.7 ± 3.4%; Face + cupping: 34.5 ± 2.5%; Face: −2.2 ± 2.9%). Individuals with greater empathy exhibited significantly higher unpleasantness ( r = 0.323, p < 0.05) and less attentional bias ( r = −0.279, p < 0.05) to the images with cupping marks.