A hospital-massage therapist’s tender touch can ease the pain of a medical procedure, and grandma’s brownies really do taste better—if we perceive them to be made with love, suggests newly published research by a University of Maryland psychologist.

“The way we read another person’s intentions changes our physical experience of the world,” says UMD Assistant Professor Kurt Gray, who directs the Maryland Mind Perception and Morality Lab.

The power of good intentions to shape physical experience was demonstrated in three separate experiments: the first examined pain, the second examined pleasure, and the third examined the taste of a sweet treat, according to a UMD press release.

The findings of these studies suggest clear applications, according to the press release. “For example … medical personal should make sure to brush up on their bedside manner.”

“How painful people find medical procedures depends in part upon the perceived intentions of the person administering it,” says Gray. “Getting blood taken from stony-faced nurse hurts more than from an empathic one.”

The study, “The Power of Good Intentions,” was published online ahead of print in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. The study is available here: http://spp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/1948550611433470v1

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