Thinking of loved ones helps reduce pain: study

Los Angeles, Nov 16 ( The mere thought of loved ones can help reduce pain, according to a new study by US researchers.

The result underscores the importance of social relationships and staying socially connected, according to the study by researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), Xinhua reported Monday.

In the study, 25 women were asked if simply looking at a photograph of their loved ones reduces pain.

The women received moderately painful heat stimuli to their forearms while they went through a number of different conditions. In one set of conditions, they viewed photographs of their boyfriend, a stranger and 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.”

In another set of conditions, each woman held the hand of her boyfriend, the hand of a male stranger and a squeeze ball. The study found that when women were holding their boyfriends’ hands, they reported less physical pain than when they were holding a stranger’s hand or a ball while receiving the same amount of heat stimulation.

“This changes our notion of how social support influences people,” Eisenberger said. “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.”

“This study demonstrates how much of an impact our social ties can have on our experience and fits with other work emphasizing the importance of social support for physical and mental health,” Eisenberger added.

The researchers advised that the next time people are going through a stressful or painful experience, if they cannot bring a loved one with them, a photo may do.

The study appears in the November 2009 issue of the journal Psychological Science.