The Daily Telegraph
Bedtime story transports poorly to a land far from pain
READING a bedtime story to a child can help in alleviating pain, a study suggests.
The activity was found to lower levels of cortisol, a chemical associated with stress, and boosted levels of the socalled cuddle hormone oxytocin, which is linked to empathy.
The children themselves also reported feeling better after a storyteller whisked their imagination off to a faraway land.
Researchers in Brazil found playing a riddle-based game made the children feel better as well, but the effect was twice as strong for lighthearted stories. Eighty-one children aged two to seven in an intensive care ward in a Sao Paulo hospital were enrolled in the study.
Patients suffered from a range of complaints, including asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. Half the children were read stories for half an hour while the others participated in a 30-minute brain-teaser session.
Saliva samples were taken from each child before and after their activity and analysed for levels cortisol and oxytocin. “The storytelling was done individually; the child chose which story would be told,” study author Dr Guilherme Brockington, from the Federal University of ABC, said. “Among the books offered, we chose titles available in ordinary book stores and without a pre-defined emotional bias, so that the story would not influence the child’s reaction so much after the activity.”
The scientists, writing in the journal PNAS, said the storytelling was effective because of a phenomenon known as “narrative transportation”.
“The child, through fantasy, can experience sensations and thoughts that transport him or her to another world, a place that is different from the hospital room and is, therefore, far from the aversive conditions of hospitalisation,” said Dr Brockington.
Dr Jorge Moll, from Brazil’s D’OR Institute for Research and Education, said reading stories to children was an extremely safe and low-cost method of pain relief. Storytelling to distract and improve the condition of children is already in use among some paediatricians, but the benefits were largely based on anecdotal evidence.
This study, the researchers say, is the first conclusive and quantitative proof of its benefits.