As reported in the Atlantic, a series of studies by a University of Maryland psychologist set to show empirically that have good intentions leads to more positive results. The findings? Food tastes better, pain hurts less, and pleasure is more pleasurable when one has a positive mindset. And what’s even more is that the perception of good intentions can have the same kinds of payoffs.
The study involved three “realms” of experience; pain, pleasure, and taste. In one study, participants were asked to sit in a massage chair. The chair was activated by either a human or a computer, and participants were able to see which was which. Consistently people had a more positive feeling (i.e. they enjoyed the massage more) when the chair was activated by a person than when it was activated by the computer. The second study involved a piece of Valentine’s Day candy given to people with an accompanying note. In one version the note read, “"I picked this just for you. Hope it makes you happy." In the other version the note read, “Whatever. I don't care. I just picked it randomly." Once again, the perception of positive intentions resulted in a stronger enjoyment of the candy from the Valentine’s note than the indifferent one.
The third, which sounds a little like the Milgram experiment on authority, was in which three groups of partners gave one another electrical shocks. The first group thought that their partner was shocking them unintentionally. The second group thought that the shocks were being delivered maliciously by their partners. The third group thought that their partner was shocking them in order to help them win money. Again, the perception of positive intentions decreased the experience of pain, with the third group being least effected by the shocks.
What the results of these studies suggest is that good intentions, and giving others the benefit of the doubt, will trump “expecting little so you’re never disappointed” every time.