UCLA study proves looking at photo of loved one reduces pain
According to a recent study by UCLA psychologists, looking at a photo, holding the hand or even just thinking of a loved one will reduce pain.
The study which appeared in the November 2009 issue of the Journal Psychological Science, involved 25 women who received a moderately painful heat stimulus on their forearms while they looked at either a photo of their loved one, a stranger or a chair.
“When the women were just looking at pictures of their partner, they actually reported less pain to the heat stimuli than when they were looking at pictures of an object or pictures of a stranger,” said study co-author Naomi Eisenberger, assistant professor of psychology and director of UCLA’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. “Thus, the mere reminder of one’s partner through a simple photograph was capable of reducing pain.”
“This changes our notion of how social support influences people,” she added. “Typically, we think that in order for social support to make us feel good, it has to be the kind of support that is very responsive to our emotional needs. Here, however, we are seeing that just a photo of one’s significant other can have the same effect.”
During the second part of the study, each woman either held the hand of her partner, the hand of a male stranger or a squeeze ball. The study again found that holding their partner’s hand reduced their pain more so than when they held a stranger’s hand or squeeze ball.
Another interesting study, by Arizona State University, published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 49, No. 1, 100-113 in January 2009, Imaginal Relationships with the Dead, explored the benefits of imaginal relationships with deceased loved ones. Through the analysis of experts, interviews with the elderly and research on LexisNexis; they found that imagining conversations with the deceased was “common, normal and therapeutic. The therapeutic benefits included: feeling cared for and loved, experiencing resolution of grief and relationship conflicts, and experiencing increased confidence in problem solving and decision making.”
Of course, we may not have needed a study to prove this; the photographs we hold in our wallets and Flickr pages, the family photos that adorn our walls, tables and desks, should be proof enough. Even the imaginal relationships with the dead must obviously have some therapeutic effect, considering almost every culture and faith in the world, from the ancient Egyptians, Romans, Africans, Chinese, Indians and Christians have references to relationships with their loved ones and ancestors that have passed on.
The UCLA study did demonstrate once again how our social ties (whether with the living or the dead) support our well-being: physically, mentally and spiritually.
UCLA’s advice: “the next time you are going through a stressful or painful experience, if you cannot bring a loved one with you, a photo may do.”
Imaginal Relationships with the Dead Sandra M. Dannenbaum, Richard T. Kinnier, Arizona State University. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 49, No. 1, 100-113 (2009)
Photo credit: Flickr: Family photo album