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Compassionate intention as a therapeutic intervention by partners of cancer patients: effects of distant intention on the patients' autonomic nervous system
This double-blind study investigated the effects of intention on the autonomic nervous system of a human "sender" and distant "receiver" of those intentions, and it explored the roles that motivation and training might have in modulating these effects.
Skin conductance level was measured in each member of a couple, both of whom were asked to feel the presence of the other. While the receiving person relaxed in a distant shielded room for 30 minutes, the sending person directed intention toward the receiver during repeated 10-second epochs separated by random interepoch periods. Thirty-six couples participated in 38 test sessions. In 22 couples, one of the pair was a cancer patient. In 12 of those couples, the healthy person was trained to direct intention toward the patient and asked to practice that intention daily for three months prior to the experiment (trained group). In the other 10 couples, the pair was tested before the partner was trained (wait group). Fourteen healthy couples received no training (control group).
Using nonparametric bootstrap procedures, normalized skin conductance means recorded during the intention epochs were compared with the same measures recorded during randomly selected interepoch periods, used as controls. The preplanned difference examined the intention versus control means at the end of the intention epoch.
Overall, receivers' skin conductance increased during the intention epochs (z = 3.9; P = .00009, two-tailed). Planned differences in skin conductance among the three groups were not significant, but a post hoc analysis showed that peak deviations were largest and most sustained in the trained group, followed by more moderate effects in the wait group, and still smaller effects in the control group.
Directing intention toward a distant person is correlated with activation of that person's autonomic nervous system. Strong motivation to heal and to be healed, and training on how to cultivate and direct compassionate intention, may further enhance this effect.