Perceived time has a significant impact on the actual time it takes to heal physical wounds, according to new research by Harvard psychologists Peter Aungle and Ellen Langer.
Their study, published late last month in Nature Scientific Reports, challenges conventional beliefs about psychological influences on physical health. The findings suggest a broader range of psychological influences than is currently appreciated.
To complete their study, the authors used a standardized procedure to mildly wound volunteer subjects. Perceived time was then manipulated in the lab, with each study participant completing three experimental conditions: Slow Time (0.5x real time), Normal Time (1x real time), and Fast Time (2x real time).
Wounds were documented as healing faster when participants believed more time had passed. Likewise, the healing process proved slower when less time was perceived to have gone by. Actual time elapsed was the same under all three conditions.
Further research is underway to better understand the underlying mechanisms and broader implications of these findings. In the meanwhile, the study makes a compelling case for more fully incorporating the idea of mind-body "unity" into subsequent inquiries on mind-body health effects. In particular, researchers are urged to consider a broader range of psychological influences on physical health.
Psychological influences on physical health are typically understood in terms of influences on emotion (e.g., stress, inflammation, and immune function) and behavior (e.g., beliefs that promote healthy actions). This research suggests abstract beliefs about how our bodies work also directly shape physical health.
Aungle, P., & Langer, E. (2023). Physical healing as a function of perceived time. Scientific Reports. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-50009-3.