“Love does not obey our expectations, it obeys our intentions.”
The ancient Chinese and Greeks debated it, and now modern science is attempting to prove it.
The road is smoother when paved with good intentions. Food tastes better, boo-boos hurt less and pleasure is heightened when we know someone cares. In other words, you have to mean it.
"The way we read another person's intentions changes our physical experience of the world," say University of Maryland MD Assistant Professor Kurt Gray, author of 'The Power of Good Intentions' published online, ahead of print, in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
For those in relationships, which is pretty much everyone, the message is to make sure your partner, sibling, friend, etc. knows you care. "It's not enough just to do good things for your partner - they have to know you want them to feel good. Just imagine saying, 'fine, here's your stupid hug,' - hardly comforting," Gray notes.
The findings have many real-world applications, including in relationships, medicine, parenting and business. A nurse's tender loving care really does ease the pain of a medical procedure, and grandma's cookies really do taste better, if we perceive them to be made with love.
While it seems clear that good and evil intentions can change the experience of social events - think of a reaction to a mean-spirited, cutting remark compared to gentle teasing spoken with a smile - this study shows that physical events are influenced by the perceived contents of another person's mind. "It seems we also use the intentions of others as a guide for basic physical experience," Gray writes in the journal.
The experience of physical stimuli would seem to depend primarily on their physical characteristics—chocolate tastes good, getting slapped hurts, and snuggling is pleasurable. This research examined, however, whether physical experience is influenced by the interpersonal context in which stimuli occur. Specifically, three studies examined whether perceiving benevolent intentions behind stimuli can improve their experience. 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.
The results confirm that good intentions—even misguided ones—can sooth pain, increase pleasure, and make things taste better. More broadly, these studies suggest that bad relationships are more a matter of ill will than poor skill. We don't pay as much attention to what is said or done as we do to what kind of intention we feel coming from our partner.
"The Power of Good Intentions: Perceived Benevolence Soothes Pain, Increases Pleasure, and Improves Taste," Kurt Gray, Social Psychological and Personality Science
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