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Good Intentions Ease Pain, Add To Pleasure

January 18, 2012

A nurse’s tender loving care really does ease the pain of a medical procedure, and grandma’s cookies really do taste better, if we perceive them to be made with love – suggests newly published research by a University of Maryland psychologist. The findings have many real-world applications, including in medicine, relationships, parenting and business.

“The way we read another person’s intentions changes our physical experience of the world,” says UMD Assistant Professor Kurt Gray, author of “The Power of Good Intentions,” newly published online ahead of print in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Gray directs the Maryland Mind Perception and Morality Lab.

“The results confirm that good intentions – even misguided ones – can sooth pain, increase pleasure and make things taste better,” the study concludes. It describes the ability of benevolence to improve physical experience as a “vindication for the power of good.”

While it seems clear that good and evil intentions can change the experience of social events – think of a reaction to a mean-spirited, cutting remark compared to gentle teasing spoken with a smile – this study shows that physical events are influenced by the perceived contents of another person’s mind.”It seems we also use the intentions of others as a guide for basic physical experience,” Gray writes in the journal.

SPECIFIC FINDINGS

The power of good intentions to shape physical experience was demonstrated in three separate experiments: the first examined pain, the second examined pleasure, and the third examined the taste of a sweet treat.

PAIN: EXPERIMENT 1. Does kindness reduce pain? Three groups of participants received identical electric shocks at the hand of a partner. Members of the first group were in the “accidental” condition: They thought they were being shocked without their partner’s awareness. The second, or “malicious




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