The intention of a carer, regardless of whether it’s a nurse, doctor or your grandmother, is key to making you feel better.
Good intentions – even misguided ones – can soothe pain, increase pleasure and make things taste better, says a new study.
Psychologist Prof Kurt Gray at the University of Maryland who carried out experiments on the relationship between intention and pain, pleasure and taste.
He says the results suggest that medical personal should make sure to brush up on their bedside manner.
“How painful people find medical procedures depends in part upon the perceived intentions of the person administering it,” says Gray. “Getting blood taken from stony-faced nurse hurts more than from an empathic one.”
In the pain group people were given identical electric shocks at the hand of a partner.
One part of the group thought the shock was “accidental” without the partner’s awareness, the second group thought they were being shocked on purpose for no good reason and the third group thought they were being shocked on purpose to help them win money.
The ones in the third group experienced significantly less pain because they believed the person was shocking them in their best interest.
In the pleasure experiment people said on an electric massage padwhich was turned on either by computer or by a caring partner.
The massages were identical but those who knew it had been turned on by a partner had a more pleasurable experience.
In the taste experiment subjects were given candy in a package with a note attached.
One set of notes real “I picked this just for you. Hope it makes you happy”.
The next set of notes read “Whatever, I just don’t care. I picked it randomly”.
The group who got the first set of notes said the candy tasted better and sweeter.
For those in relationships the message is to make sure your partner, sibling, friend, etc. knows you care.
Gray notes, “It’s not enough just to do good things for your partner — they have to know you want them to feel good.”
The same would also seem to apply to cooking, where emphasizing your concern about the experience of the diners makes things taste better.