Study of the Day: The Very Real Power of Your Good Intentions

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The perception of love and kindness makes physical experiences more pleasurable and less painful, according to new research.

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PROBLEM: Good intentions have a bad reputation. They're often described as useless, and some even claim they pave the road to hell.

METHODOLOGY: To test the effect of kindness and benevolence on physical experiences, University of Maryland psychologist Kurt Gray conducted three experiments. In the first trial, which examined pain, the participants received identical electric shocks at the hand of a partner who supposedly did so accidentally, maliciously, or compassionately. In the next test, which looked at pleasure, subjects sat on the same electric massage pad that was either turned on by a computer or a caring partner. Then, in the final trial, participants tasted similar sweet treats that came with either a pleasant note ("I picked this just for you. Hope it makes you happy") or an apathetic message ("I just picked it randomly").

RESULTS: Subjects who felt cared for in each experiment felt less pain from the shocks and enjoyed their massage and food more than those who were treated poorly or indifferently.

CONCLUSION: Good intentions can soothe pain, increase pleasure, and improve taste.

IMPLICATION: "The way we read another persons intentions changes our physical experience of the world," said Gray in a statement. Those in relationships should let their loved ones know that they care for them when they interact, and doctors and nurses should brush up on their bedside manner to reduce pain.

SOURCE: The full study, "Perceived Benevolence Soothes Pain, Increases Pleasure, and Improves Taste," is published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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