Are you about to undergo a painful operation? Make sure you pack a loved one for your hospital stay. Holding their hand or even looking at their photograph can reduce pain, a UCLA study has found.
In the study, 25 female subjects who'd been in steady relationships for more than six months were given a mild burn then shown a photograph of either their boyfriend, another man or a chair.
When women were shown the photograph of their boyfriend they reported less pain than when looking at the stranger or an object.
The study's co-author and assistant professor of psychology, Dr Naomi Eisenberger, said this study changes the notion of how people are influenced by social support.
"Typically, we think that in order for social support to make us feel good, it has to be the kind of support that is very responsive to our emotional needs," Dr Eisenberger said. "Here, however, we are seeing that just a photo of one's significant other can have the same effect."
In another set of conditions, the women reported less discomfort if they were holding the hand of their partners, rather than a stranger's or a ball.
"This study demonstrates how much of an impact our social ties can have on our experience and fits with other work, emphasising the importance of social support for physical and mental health," Dr Eisenberger said.
The study was published in the November 2009 issue of Psychological Science.