Loved Ones Blunt the Pain
Written by Dr. Laurie on December 1, 2009
An article on the psychology blog PsychCentral caught my attention. I was reading articles about dealing with pain, and they reviewed a new study about how to reduce one’s subjective experience of physical pain.
That is a fancy way to remind us that pain is made up of two components — the physical sensation of the pain, and then the perception (location and intensity) of the pain. This study looked at perception, and built on previous research that states that people who are alone experience their pain as more severe than people who are with a loved one (and I assume this means a pet as well as a human).
The new study went a step further to see if the photograph of the loved one could also reduce the perception of pain.
Amazingly, it did!
Those who had a picture to look at while having a stimulation of pain registered less pain than the controls. The researchers also looked at reaction time, just to make sure it wasn’t about distraction.
The new study went a step further to see if the photograph of the loved one could also reduce the perception of pain. Amazingly, it did!
What they found was that the picture seemed to provide a sense of support — the reminder of being loved and cared for. That had a positive effect: the person experienced pain as less painful than the controls who were alone.
The researchers went on to propose that having a picture of someone you love may be beneficial, especially if you can’t have that person with you.
Or if your main support isn’t so good at being supportive in person, this is a way to feel that presence without needing them to act a certain way. They conclude, “And, unlike your partner or family member, a photo can’t be in a bad mood!”
Let me know if you have ever experimented with this, and if you find it to be true for you.
The study’s information: Master, S.L., et al. (2009). A Picture’s Worth: Partner Photographs Reduce Experimentally Induced Pain. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02444.x