Article image

Mind-body connection: Wounds heal faster if we think more time has passed 

In a study that redefines our understanding of the mind-body connection, Harvard psychologists Peter Aungle and Ellen Langer have demonstrated that perceived time can significantly affect the rate of physical healing

The research challenges long-held views about the psychological factors influencing physical health, suggesting a more complex interplay than previously thought.

According to the researchers, this is the first study to demonstrate that perceived time can affect physical healing independent of actual time. 

Focus of the study 

“Open Google Scholar and start typing ‘mind body’ into the search box. The top two suggested search terms are ‘mind body problem’ and ‘mind body connection.’ Select ‘mind body connection,’ and Google Scholar returns more than 5 million results,” noted the study authors. “The top results link to papers that cover the topics of emotion, chronic pain, and placebos.”

“In some domains, the simultaneous and bidirectional influences of mind on body and body on mind are intuitive and increasingly well-studied, as indicated by the 5 million results returned on Google Scholar. But in other domains, the ability of the mind to shape physical health is overlooked, discounted, or rejected altogether.”

An interesting theory

“The purpose of this study was to test whether manipulating perceived time, while holding real time constant, would affect physical healing,” wrote the researchers.

“More specifically, we hypothesized that experimentally induced wounds would heal faster when more perceived time had passed and heal slower when less perceived time had passed, despite no differences in actual elapsed time.”

How the research was conducted 

The study involved a standardized procedure where volunteer subjects were mildly wounded. The novel aspect of this research lies in the manipulation of perceived time in a controlled laboratory environment. 

Subjects experienced three different conditions: Slow Time (where time appeared to move at half its normal speed), Normal Time (real-time), and Fast Time (double the speed of normal time). 

Surprising results

The results were nothing short of astonishing. As predicted by the experts, wounds healed significantly faster when participants believed more time had passed. 

Conversely, when subjects perceived that less time had gone by, the healing process was slower. This occurred despite the actual time elapsed being the same across all conditions.

Broader implications

The study opens up new avenues for understanding the mind-body connection and how psychological factors impact physical health. It suggests that our abstract beliefs about time and the body’s functioning can directly shape our physical health outcomes. 

The researchers are now focusing on uncovering the underlying mechanisms behind these findings and exploring the broader implications for both psychological and physical health treatments.

Rethinking mind-body health

Traditionally, the psychological influences on physical health have been understood in terms of emotional and behavioral impacts, such as stress affecting immune function or beliefs promoting healthy actions. 

This research, however, indicates that our understanding of these influences needs to be broadened. Incorporating the concept of mind-body “unity” in future research and treatments could ultimately revolutionize health and healing, emphasizing the power of perception and belief in our physical well-being.

“These data and the larger body of research of which they are a part suggest that – at the very least – neglecting the role of the mind when trying to understand any behavior of the body is risky at best and reckless at worst.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day