Just thinking of your loved one can provide relief if you are in pain, say University of California Los Angeles psychologists. The study underscores the importance of social relationships and staying socially connected.
In the study, researchers asked if simply looking at a photograph of your significant other could reduce pain.
It involved 25 women, mostly UCLA students, who had boyfriends with whom they had been in a good relationship for more than six months.
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. Thus, the mere reminder of one's partner through a simple photograph was capable of reducing pain," said study co-author Dr. Naomi Eisenberger.
"This changes our notion of how social support influences people. 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," she added.
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 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," said Eisenberger.