To retain more info at the doctor, relax first

If we can relax and become calm before seeing the doctor, we’ll likely pay attention to and better comprehend written health messages, according to new research.

Researchers tested whether increasing one’s positive self through meditation can lessen negative feelings prior to getting the health information.

“An intense negative emotion can lead to a patient to focus on only one or two pieces of information and gloss over other important details from health messages,” says lead author Koji Takahashi, a psychology graduate student at the University of Michigan.

The findings came from four studies involving nearly 1,450 adults divided in groups. Some meditated or listened to audio that instructed breathing exercises and relaxation. Others simply listened to historical information.

After completing the listening task, all participants read information about flu, cancer, HIV, herpes, and gonorrhea.

Participants who relaxed reported paying more attention to the health messages, the study shows. The meditation created a positive, low arousal affect, which enabled them to retain the information, says coauthor Allison Earl, assistant professor of psychology.

“A negative affect drives attention away from unpleasant or threatening information,” she says.

This doesn’t mean you won’t be scared or embarrassed in the doctor’s office, “but you’ll be able to handle the information better by being in a calmer mood,” Earl says.

The researchers recommend that people use their time wisely in the waiting room by meditating or listening to calming music, not simply watching television or playing on their cell phones.

In addition, if patients do not believe they can relax, they might consider taking a family member or friend to the appointment to take notes during the doctor’s consultation, Takahashi says.

Researchers note that this study only focused on adults receiving written health messages; the findings should not be extrapolated beyond this without further research.

The findings appear in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Source: University of Michigan