How do fire dancers not get burned

Question to the brain

Professor Dr. Markus Ploner, Technical University, Munich:A simple explanation is that these people have a particularly strong horning of the soles of the feet, which can be due, for example, to frequent barefoot walking. This could explain why the skin on the soles of these people's feet is more resistant to heat. This could also explain why they perceive the heat as less painful than usual. The cornea acts as an insulating layer and the heat comes to a lesser extent to the nerve endings, the activation of which causes pain.

Another explanation is that these people perceive pain differently than usual. Most people do not walk barefoot over the fire as it would be very painful. And that's exactly what pain is there for, it warns us and prevents us from actions that endanger our health, such as walking barefoot over the fire. But pain is not a 1: 1 translation of temperature. While temperature plays an important role in pain, psychological and genetic factors also influence how we perceive pain. The perception of pain is therefore very different from person to person and from moment to moment.

These differences arise, for example, from previous experiences, expectations, attention and the overarching goals of the individual. The basis of these influences on pain perception lies in the brain. They have their own system that can be used to modulate the perception of pain.

This system can be activated by very different mechanisms. For example, the placebo effect, i.e. the relief of pain caused only by expectation, is conveyed via this system. Meditation can also activate this system. Interestingly, opioids are used as brain messenger substances in this system, so that we can also use this system in the drug treatment of pain with opioids.

Perhaps people who walk over fire can use this system particularly effectively. Similar to opioid administration, this leads to pain relief that allows them to endure usually very painful actions. This mechanism might well explain why some people endure the pain commonly experienced when walking over fire. However, it cannot explain why the skin of the soles of the feet does not burn. But perhaps other people would not burn their skin when walking quickly over fire, but would only perceive severe pain as a warning of a possible burn. But it has not been scientifically investigated.

Recorded by Maike Niet