Mind and body have a deep interdependent relationship. The ancient philosophers knew this. Our thoughts and emotions influence our body and, of course, eminently physiological processes also determine our psychological well-being.
Now science is rediscovering that inextricable link, bringing up very curious experiments that allow us to have more control over what happens in our body by paying attention to the paths our mind follows, so that we can take care of our health or even recover it – in as far as possible.
Healing, a matter of… time perception?
“Time heals everything,” it is often said. But what happens when our perception of time varies and passes slower or faster?
Harvard University researchers, Peter Aungle and Ellen Langer, asked themselves this question and found that the influence of the mind on our body goes far beyond what we initially assumed.
They recruited 33 people, who caused minor injuries to the skin of their arms while the researchers manipulated their perception of time. Basically, they modified the clocks so that each participant was exposed to three different time rates: slow time (0.5 times real time), normal time, and fast time (2 times real time).
However, in all three conditions, people spent the same amount of actual time (28 minutes) monitoring changes in the wounds.
Additionally, they performed other tasks after the observation period to balance perceived time with actual time and ensure that each lab session lasted approximately one hour, so that they would not suspect manipulation.
Thus, the researchers found that wounds tended to heal faster when the participants believed that more time had passed. In contrast, the healing process was slower when they perceived that less time had passed – even though the actual time had been the same for everyone.
Therefore, this is the first study to demonstrate that perceived time may be an additional factor influencing physical healing, independently of the actual time required for healing.
Mental predisposition, an essential factor to heal or get sick
The way we perceive time, as well as our expectations and beliefs about healing, cannot be separated from physiological processes.
In fact, a previous study carried out at Stanford University had already found that when doctors reassure patients and confirm that they will heal, the symptoms of allergic reactions are reduced, compared to those who simply received the diagnosis without a prognosis on its evolution.
Another investigation carried out at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore also concluded that people who expect to catch influenza end up having a higher risk of developing symptoms.
Scientific studies show that psychological factors, from our perception of time to our expectations about healing, influence physiological processes, and can accelerate healing or, on the contrary, delay it.
Obviously, this does not mean that we are all-powerful and can heal as we wish, but it is important to be aware that our mind plays an important role in healing, so we should not only worry about medications, but also about developing the psychological predisposition that helps us be better. It’s in our hands!
Aungle, P. & Langer, E. (2023) Physical healing as a function of perceived time. Scientific Reports; 13: 22432.
Pagnini, F. et. Al. (2020) Illness expectations predict the development of influenza-like symptoms over the winter season. Complement Ther Med; 50: 102396.
Leibowitz, K. A., et. Al. (2018) Physician Assurance Reduces Patient Symptoms in US Adults: an Experimental Study. J Gen Intern Med; 33: 2051–2052.