Group Intention: A Field effect

Lynne McTaggart

Last week, two studies that caught my eye seemed to answer fairly basic questions about the nature of the social group and the power of the social contract, and why all this related to the power of group intention.
The study, recently published in Cancer Prevention journal, represented some groundbreaking collaboration between cancer specialists at the University of Chicago and behaviorist psychologist Martha McClintock, founder of the Institute for Mind and Biology at the University of Chicago. McClintock had been fascinated by the effect of social isolation on disease and aging.
Isolated mice
As usual, the study involved mice (and I will state here my continual objections to animal research like this – this study could have been done on humans). The Chicago scientists gathered together infant mice that were genetically predisposed to breast cancer and identical in every way, and divided them into one of two groups. One was then raised within a group of mice, and the others were raised on their own.
They then studied genetic expression in the mouse mammary tumors over time. Before long, the Chicago scientists discovered that the mice that had been isolated grew far larger tumors. They were also found to have developed a disrupted stress-hormone response and behaviour indicative of chronic stress.
The researchers then wished to examine the precise biological consequences of the stressful environment. When they studied the gene expression in the mouse mammary tissue over time, they found altered genetic expression levels of metabolic pathway genes in the isolated mice. The environment had altered the way in which their genes were ‘turned on’.
Suzanne Conzen, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, and lead author, was stunned by the results. “I doubted there would be a difference in the growth of the tumors in such a strong model of genetically inherited cancer simply based on chronic stress in their environments, so I was surprised to see a clear, measurable difference both in the mammary gland tumor growth and interestingly in accompanying behavior and stress hormone levels.”
Conzen and her colleagues concluded with a statement that would have been heretical to most biologists and geneticists – namely that ‘the social environment, and a social animal’s response to the environment’ can alter gene expression – that is, turn them on or off – in a wide variety of tissues in the body, including the brain.
In the case of the mice, they permanently stressed by being on their own and the stress of isolation altered their genes and made them ill.
Group rowing
I then came upon another extraordinary study, this time of Oxford University rowers. In this instance, a group of anthropologists from the University of Oxford’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology asked a group of 12 rowers to work out in a virtual boat in a gym used for normal training. In each of four tests they were to row continuously for 45 minutes, first as members of one of two teams of six, and then in separate sessions as individuals unobserved by the other members of the team.
Exercise has long known to increase a person’s ability to tolerate pain. So after each session, the scientists measured the rowers’ pain thresholds by measuring how long they could tolerate an inflated blood pressure cuff on the arm. Although the rowers evidenced increased pain tolerance after every one of the sessions, they had significantly larger tolerance to pain after the group training, as compared with the effect of exercising individually.
Professor Robin Dunbar, head of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford, concluded that although all physical activity results in a release of endorphins – the feel-good chemical - the synchrony of the shared physical activity appeared to create a ‘ramped up’ endorphin release, which may have something to do with communal bonding.
So when we do things in groups, we feel a rush of ‘we’re-all-in-this-together’ elation that actually allows us to resist difficulties, including pain.
Said Dr. Emma Cohen, the lead author in the study, which was recently published in the UK’s Royal Society journal Biology Letters, a growing body of evidence suggests that ‘synchronized, coordinated physical activity may be responsible’ for this phenomenon.
The power in numbers
The real takeaway message here is the extraordinary power of the group. These two studies support the central thesis of The Intention Experiment: that group intention creates, in essence, a sacred circle that magnifies the effect.
To my mind, these two studies together answer some vital questions about the power of group intention to ‘ramp up’ the effect of individual thought. If the mouse studies can be applied to other species, including humans (and of course there is no evidence they can be) the lifeblood of most living things is a social group.
Indeed, it appears necessary for survival. Although the mice contained a genetic ‘blueprint’ for mammary cancer, the only factor that turned on the genetic expression of it was social isolation. For the mice raised with other mice, the social group created a ‘field’ that proved protective of cancer.
In the case of the rowers, the group created a ‘field’ that magnified individual efforts and overrode individual limitations. Within the field, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
This is why we feel something extraordinarily akin to magic in our intention circles; we glimpse the essential bond that is our birthright.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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19 comments on “Group Intention: A Field effect”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I have no formal science background, however, my mother and I occasionally discuss examples of people we know and watched go through a stressful job or other situation and then they end it by getting cancer or some other serious illness manifests. I take it as the stress unleashes the ____ (fill in the blank), which is a genetic possibility and only manifests in certain circumstances.
    I better go meditate...

  2. Fascinating read. I've been trying to use Gregg Braden's principles, (mostly the Divine Matrix work), and I feel like I'm starting to link into the the consciously co-creating community.
    Your newsletters really boost my spirit. Thank you!

  3. congradulations! and thank you for playing your part in enlightening the masses. your passion is changing the world, with ever expanding global thought

  4. In my work I have found that there are really only two basic emotions, Love and Fear. Love nourishes and Fear depletes. There are many faces to fear, such as anger, frustration, low self-esteem, hopelessness, grief, crying, abandoned etc. All of these lead to dis-ease and eventually death if allowed to go long enough.
    Isn't it crazy, but love really does conquer all!

  5. I have observed the result of bereavement of a partner (mainly husband) on friends (I'm a ladies hairdresser so am in a good position to witness the results) and also two of my sister. It seems to me that in such circumstances we have two choices, mainly, one is that after the inital mourning process, we make a new life for ourselves, with outside activities and new friends, or we retreat from life and become very home based.
    I have observed both of these choices in friends and clients and indeed both my sisters. The first choice seems to result in a new vigour and enjoyment in life and the second seems to me to result in some kind of ill health eventually, as has happened to one of my sisters, who has developed Altzeimers disease.(The other sister who is in fact the older of the two is in rude health and vigour and has a new circle of friends and activities!) So the experiment with the mice is just more proof to me that we are social animals that need to be with others to thrive and our destiny will be judged by how well we can work together for the good of all. Penny Joseph

  6. I have been working on a study of "ritual" and culture (particularly in medicine,) and it is clear that ritual is a technology that synthesizes and clarifies intention. Indigenous cultures know that illness comes out of a disconnect with individual ritual which is tied to the larger community ritual.
    Thanks for illuminating these studies.

  7. I have been reading about these studies for years and I have a bone to pick. What if being with groups stresses you rather than calms you? Some groups can be stressful and not always harmonious.
    Take families, who do not get along for example but who insist on family gatherings that always includes tension. That kind of group can have a negative affect.
    So, I feel that it depends on the type of group, the people in a group and not just any group. I have friends who admit their temperament causes stress in a group rather than brings calm to a group. They are driven to be bossy or controlling and that is anything but calming.
    So, it's too general to say that people will be happier or healthier in a group. Some people thrive on being social and they are eager to go anywhere because it makes them happy to belong. Others feel content to be solitary but for them solitary does not equate loneliness.
    My grandfather became a loner when he retired and lived until 82--basically, because he thrived on a quiet life in the country. He spent his life traveling and was a very industrious business man so he relished his years of not having to socialize. Retirement for him, was a chance to do what he wanted for a change. He never developed dementia, was always sharp mentally and quite humorous. He enjoyed visitors and was quite a talker but he never wanted anyone to overstay their visit.
    My mother-in-law is the opposite. She is a widow and feels depressed if she is not part of a group from morning to night. She is driven to belong to any group--it does not matter what they are doing, she will join. She cannot be alone for a minute in the day. Her driving need is to talk all the time. So, for her, not being able to talk constantly to someone causes her to feel lonely. She will start the day with the church group, go to the knitting group and so on and end up at night wth the bridge group and not get home until after 11pm!
    To me, that schedule and group involvement is over kill. To her, it's her lifeline. To my grandfather, joining groups would have made him stressed.
    People are so varied and thrive with different degrees of emotional needs or involvement or bonding with other people. I just don't think a one-size-all theory about group bonding is the ticket for all people.
    It may be fair to say groups can ramp-up success of pointed intentions but the theory that all humans will be better or healthier if they are part of or bond with a group is too general.

  8. It makes so much sense that the positive environment of bonded groups of shared intention would have a significant effect on gene expression. And even after disease has manifested, groups can have an enourmous effect on recovery in both the physical and spiritual sense. After working in healthcare administration, I've observed that cancer patients who are involved with support groups seem to not only recover but to achieve a higher level of wellness and wellbeing.
    SJS's comments are well taken - it is worth exploring people's predisposed differences to thriving in groups. I wonder if it has to do with introversion and extraversion, possibly as measured by Myers Briggs type indicators. Still, I think even introverts (and I am one) get energized and focused in a group with like-minded intentions.

  9. I think these blogs are extremely interesting however have just one comment with regard to the intention of the week, in that it seems to me that the disease or problem to be healed is usually included in the intention, which only serves to keep it in the minds of everyone participating in the intention experiment. In my view an intention should be kept really simple and only include what is wanted. So in this week's intention rather than "My intention is that VHO will release his emotional past and that the tumour will be replaced with clean healthy tissue", how about "My intention is that VHO will have a perfectly healthy bladder and is at peace with his past". This way only peace and health are kept in mind.
    I also wonder if there is any feedback on the results of each intention of the week ?

  10. Really interesting work. Many studies seem to show that group intention amplifies the effect and the above work shows an increased production of endorphins when individuals are in a social group. So, what if endorphin levels are essential for a mechanism in the brain to create a psychic effect? Could be worth investigating? Wish I had my own lab and don't think an artists studio is suitable!!

  11. I wanted to thank you for this info and scientific "proofs" , which strengthen my own observations from life.
    I too have witnessed the aging and oft-times disease and death of numerous relatives and agree that isolation is often deadly... mainly because the individual can not really take care of themselves adequately and is often not cognizant of that fact. Where there is a support network in place (regular caregiver, family, or group) the quality of life is enhanced naturally and the stress of survival is removed.
    Isolation can set in, even with a supportive family around , especially where hearing loss is denied and untreated.
    In the case of one aunt of mine (the only one of 9 to die before age 80)... she missed someone to snipe at, after her husband died and developed dis-ease.
    And I too belong to a meditation/healing group and have attended various workshops where I have experienced the profound sense of spirit/energy/healing power that can be effected in a group setting.
    And I have learned that by setting the intent I can become part of a global group without even leaving my chair... but then I'd miss the laughter and the hugs!!

  12. The magnification effect of a group has been known to Healers for decades, particularly where absent healing (intention) is concerned. The group is far more powerful than the combination of individuals working alone. Lynn's blog is testament to the fact that conventional science is becoming aware of this.

  13. I tend to agree that at least in general, it depends on the individual's personality and the particular group's dynamics, or perhaps even whether the group is physically present or not, yet still linked to a common purpose. For instance, in the latter case, personalities aren't given the chance to "clash," yet are still focused on the same is often the case with the Intention work here.
    That said, it's also interesting to note that by contrast,, with Reconnective Healing(R) (I believe you're aware of this work, Lynne), which runs quite contrary to most other forms of healing work & even to this theory, Eric Pearl found during his own investigations that when he tried to "add" to it by working with it in a group endeavor, it actually DECREASED its power to heal. (it would be interesting, Lynne, if you could get Eric's take on this other, generalized theory, if he has one)
    Perhaps the effect of all manner of things has as much to do with how accepting & understanding an 'individual' really is, at heart, about stepping into their 'own' power, and about not truly being an 'individual' at all, but a 'part' of The Field? If so, this might say more about the power of either belief &/or a more conscious connection to Source/The Field than anything else. And yes, I believe every creature has, on an earthly basis, varying & individual degrees of such aware connection, as well as their individual earthly personalities/preferences, so this idea would still apply.

  14. I agree that different people have different needs (strokes?) as far as groups and aloneness. I am a solitary person, happier with just myself and my husband than with large groups of people. I am miserable when forced to be in large groups, even though the group intent is positive. If my husband pre-deceases me I will want alone time to deal with my sorrow, not be constantly asked how I am, etc., by my daughters, friends, others. It will be hard to get that, I know, because my daughters are just the opposite, as are my husband's family. He is a gregarious person and it took a long time in our marriage for him to realize that I needed "my space" time, but he did. Not all of us benefit from groups, in other words. Humans cannot be classified in the same way as mice, you know. I'm sorry, I just hate generalizations about people's needs. I think we are so much more complex than lab animals that studies done on mice, rats etc. can't be used to generalize about human behavior. Perhaps reactions to medicines, but not behavior!

  15. It is said we are Spirit inhabiting a physical body. This body has experiences which form a memory of "self". Because of the differences in experience we all develop differing "selves". These selves are in fact not our true "Selves" which are Spirit. The more we identify with the body's "self", and our differences, or personality, or what is called ego, the more isolated we become. The more we identify with that Self that is Spirit the more we value others and accept our fundamental relatedness. This recognition is a source of power which is magnified in a group having this understanding and using that power for good.

  16. I've had an understanding of all this since I was born, and have constantly looked for meaning in it. I've always been aware of the power of my mind but need some closure on why its always been so promonent in my life? I've never been able to openly speak about it as I've felt I would be riddaculed. Is there some ultimate good it can be used for or is it just some small step of evolution I'm experiencing?

  17. Just yesterday I was out sea swimming with the group Im in. One of the girls was suddenly shocked by a wave. She had not fully submerged yet. The nearest person said Keep telling me what you were saying and many of us focussed on her with reassuring nods, thumbs up, and' you have this Kate'.
    She said to me later, while hugging a hot water bottle, that at that moment when the pain came on fast she was able to cope as a result of the power of the group. The group dynamic is well established, the culture overtly and implicitly supportive. The pain is felt, not forgotten but the intensity is subectively lessened by the group.

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