Optimism: A Superpower

Have you ever considered what superpower you would like to have, if the choice was yours? Here’s a great one for you… OPTIMISM! It not only improves physical and psychological wellbeing, but it can also reduce pain perception in healthy adults, which could mean that positive thinking = less pain, and who wouldn’t want that?

In 2013, Hanssen and colleagues conducted research to investigate whether a link could be found between the pain threshold of an individual and their mindset. They primed half of their participants with the ‘best possible self’ task, which induces optimism by encouraging the subject to visualise and write about their ideal future self. As a control, the other half of their participants simply visualised and wrote about their activities in a typical day. Following the mindset manipulation tasks, a Cold Pressor Task was conducted, where the participant submerged their hand into very cold water, and kept it there for 1 minute. At 20 second intervals, the participants were asked to report their perceived pain intensity on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 was no pain at all and 100 was extreme pain.

Impressively, it was found that participants who had engaged in the ‘best possible self’ activity, and were therefore more optimistic, experienced a lower pain intensity during the cold pressor task than those in the control group.

So, there you have it… Optimism allows you to perceive less pain! Well, if that hasn’t encouraged you to choose optimism as your superpower, then there is always invisibility, that’s also pretty cool!

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Hanssen, M. M., Peters, M. L., Vlaeyen, J. W., Meevissen, Y. M., & Vancleef, L. M. (2013). Optimism lowers pain: Evidence of the causal status and underlying mechanisms. Pain, 154(1), 53-58. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2012.08.006

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