Regular readers know that I have written repeatedly about the importance of happiness in our lives. A couple of the posts include, Why Should I Be Happy?, What is Positive Psychology? You can click on the happiness or kindness tags at the right to read others.
A paper published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health on Psychological Variables that Influence Placebo Responses says that “There is also growing evidence that personality may affect the placebo response. The main personality traits for which there is evidence of an effect are optimism, pessimism, trait anxiety, and neuroticism. Dispositional optimism and pessimism are habitual styles of expecting good or bad outcomes in life and therefore can be regarded as a dispositional bias in expectation. Optimists demonstrate an attentional bias for positive information and, even when faced with negative information, will tend to reframe the information in positive ways. Optimism correlates negatively with trait anxiety and neuroticism and positively with reported use of positive coping strategies in general. Scheier and Carver [another study] suggest that the general positive expectations associated with optimists lead to persistence and striving toward goals in the face of adversity. Optimism may therefore influence the extent to which a patient, given a placebo treatment, persists in the treatment and interprets it positively.”
The paper goes on to cite a recent study in which a pill was given to healthy volunteers who had been divided into two groups of optimists and pessimists to see whether providing negative expectations about the treatment would make them feel worse. The authors found that pessimists were more likely to feel worse and experience more pain.
Some studies have shown that where medical tests could verify results between patients with placebos as opposed to real medicines. The medical tests showed that the patients who received the placebos received no medical benefit from them. However, those patients nonetheless reported that they felt less pain as a result of the pills. So, there seems to be a part of the brain that can produce an anesthetic effect equal to a mild dose of a real painkiller.
I would like to conclude with another reference to an earlier blog post: Some Super Tools for Handling Stress.
I think that some of the positive thinking and procedures for dealing with stressful situations in that post translate perfectly to the experience of dealing with the stressful experience of illness and/or pain.