Psychology of possibilities can enhance health, happiness, research says

August 2, 2012

First-time mothers who pay attention to their emotional and physical changes during their pregnancy may feel better and have healthier newborns than new mothers who don't, according to research to be presented at American Psychological Association's 120th Annual Convention.

"These findings continue more than 40 years of research that has made clear that whether you are mindless or mindful makes a big difference in every aspect of your health and well-being -- from competence to longevity," Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University and a pioneer in researching mindfulness, said in an interview. Langer is a past recipient of APA's Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest.

For Langer's recent study, researchers trained women pregnant with their first child in mindfulness with instructions to notice subtle changes in their feelings and physical sensations each day, she said. When compared with two other groups of first-time who did not have the mindfulness training, these women reported more well-being and and less . "They had higher self-esteem and during this period of their pregnancy and up to at least a month after birth," Langer said. "And this also had a positive impact on their deliveries and overall health of the ."

Teaching mindfulness through attention to variability may be helpful for many disorders, including asthma, depression and learning disabilities, to name a few, according to Langer.

"Noticing even subtle in how you feel can counter mindlessness, or the illusion of stability. We tend to hold things still in our minds, despite the fact that all the while they are changing. If we open up our minds, a world of possibility presents itself," she said.

Author of the popular books "Mindfulness," "The Power of Mindful Learning," "On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity," and most recently, "Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility," Langer is known for her work on the illusion of control, aging, decision-making and mindfulness theory.

In her lecture, Langer will describe her research to test possibilities rather than find out what is typical. "Psychologists have traditionally studied the 'norm' rather than exceptions that could show that we are capable of far more than we currently realize," she said. Among other research, she will describe her work showing how a change in mindset has resulted in weight loss and improved vision and hearing, and how subtle differences in choice of words can improve health.

Langer first demonstrated the psychology of possibilities in her landmark 1981 "counterclockwise" experiment in which a group of elderly men spent time immersed in a retreat created to reflect daily life in the 1950s and where they were told to speak of the past in the present tense. Men in a comparison group reminisced for the week and were given no instructions regarding verb tense. The experimental group showed greater improvement in vision, strength, joint flexibility, finger length (their arthritis diminished and they could straighten their fingers more) and manual dexterity. On intelligence tests, 63 percent of the experimental group improved their scores, compared to 44 percent of the control group, Langer said.

BBC television recently replicated the study with British celebrities in a program that has been viewed in Great Britain, Australia, India and Hong Kong. It's currently being replicated with local celebrities in Germany and the Netherlands, Langer said.

"It is important for people to realize there can be enhanced possibilities for people of all ages and all walks of life," Langer emphasized. "My research has shown how using a different word, offering a small choice or making a subtle change in the physical environment can improve our health and well-being. Small changes can make large differences, so we should open ourselves to the impossible and embrace a psychology of possibility."

Explore further: Mindfulness reduces anxiety and depression in cancer patients

Related Stories

Mindfulness reduces anxiety and depression in cancer patients

June 11, 2012
When being diagnosed with cancer, people will naturally worry about their future, their family and about dying. Actually, no less than 35-40% of cancer patients suffer from significant anxiety and depression symptoms. An ...

UA psychology professor seeks relief for chronic headache sufferers

May 10, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Dr. Beverly Thorn, chair of The University of Alabama's psychology department, is seeking volunteers for a key study into how "mindfulness meditation" can help manage chronic pain from headaches.

Recommended for you

Researchers link epigenetic aging to bipolar disorder

December 12, 2017
Bipolar disorder may involve accelerated epigenetic aging, which could explain why persons with the disorder are more likely to have - and die from - age-related diseases, according to researchers from The University of Texas ...

Researchers find common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101

December 12, 2017
In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of several hundred citizens over the age of 90. Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San ...

New therapy can help schizophrenia sufferers re-engage socially

December 11, 2017
A new therapy aimed at helping young people suffering from schizophrenia to reconnect and engage with the world around them has had promising results, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

Twitter can reveal our shared mood

December 11, 2017
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns ...

Certain books can increase infant learning during shared reading, study shows

December 11, 2017
Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

Infant brain responses predict reading speed in secondary school

December 11, 2017
A study conducted at the Department of Psychology at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland and Jyväskylä Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Research (CIBR) has found that the brain responses of infants with an inherited ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.