Getting a shot at a clinic? Knowing that the doctor is from your hometown, likes the same food as you, or shares your beliefs may reduce your pain, a new study suggests. “When someone believes that something is going to help relieve their pain, their brain naturally releases pain- relieving chemicals,” said Elizabeth Losin, assistant professor at the University of Miamiin the US. “Our hypothesis, based on what we are seeing, is that trusting and feeling similar to the doctor who is performing the painful procedure is creating that same kind of placebo pain relief,” Losin said.
In the study, participants were given a questionnaire that asked about their political ideology, religious and gender role beliefs and practises. They were then separated into two groups and told that they were assigned to the groups based on their questionnaire answers. The goal was to make people from the same group think they had something in common, which might then manifest itself as more positive feelings, like trust, towards participants playing the role of the doctor or the patient from their own group, researchers said.
The participants who played the patients interacted with one doctor from their own group and one doctor from the other group, both of their own gender. During the simulated clinical interaction, the doctors performed a pain-induction procedure on the patients by applying heat to their inner forearm, meant to simulate a painful medical procedure like a shot.
After the interaction, both the doctors and the patients were asked how similar they felt to each other and how much they trusted each other. Researchers found that the more patients reported trusting their doctor and feeling similar to them, the less pain they reported feeling from the heat on their arm. The study, published in the Journal of Pain, also suggests that participants who experience higher levels of anxiety on a day-to-day basis experienced greater reductions in pain from feeling close to their doctor.