Got a trip to the doctor’s office and worried about the pain from a shot? Research out of UCLA offers this practical solution: bring a photo of your significant other. A recent study published in Psychological Science highlighted that women who looked at pictures of their significant other while receiving moderate pain stimuli reported less perceptions of pain. Looking at pictures of objects or strangers did not have the same effect (so it’s not just about generic pain distraction).
A second condition in which women held the hand of their partner, a stranger, or a ball found similar (although interestingly less powerful) affects: less physical pain was reported while those women were holding onto their partner’s hand rather than the alternatives. Of note is the fact that these women could not see their partner when holding their hand (they were separated by a curtain that hung from the ceiling to the desk).
The researchers suggest that bringing a photograph might be enough to inspire the feelings of love and support from that partner. In this way, women may prime themselves into the benefits of support without taking the risk that the partner’s actual supportive attempts might bring a less-than-desired level of calm (since responsiveness varies in the crucial moment). So they can just imagine that their partners said all the right things to soothe them during that nasty blood draw.
Master, S.L., Eisenberger, N.L., Taylor, S.E., Naliboff, B.D., Shirinyan, D., & Lieberman, M.D (2009). A picture’s worth: Partner photographs reduce experimentally induced pain. Psychological Science (20) 11, 1316-1318.
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