I watched a number of the TED talks videos, mainly for fun, before I picked one to write about.  I settled on one that dealt with the Placebo Effect.  The TED Talk was actually by a magician, Eric Mead, who was fascinated with the similarities between magic and placebos and the effect that the mind has of turning something fake into something real.

This TED talk was slightly disappointing in the fact that it was mainly a magic show, and didn’t really delve into some of the really interesting aspects of the Placebo Effect.  However, he did discuss some elements of the effect: different types of placebos have different results.  Well, I shouldn’t say different “types,” because placebos are commonly just sugar solutions, but a more accurate description would be different appearances of the placebo.  Mr. Mead describes how studies have shown that colored pills are more effective than white pills, pills with a letter are more effective than not, capsules are more effective than pills, and needles are more effective than capsules.  The point of this being that the mind instills different qualities onto things that are pharmaceutically  the same.  (Just as the mind will believe a magic trick to be real until we see it explained to us.)

I’ve always had a fascination with the placebo effect because, for whatever reason, I feel as if I make use of it on a fairly regular basis, particularly when it comes to sickness.  I made it through 3 years at Bucknell before I had to go to health services, and that was only because of a physical injury.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually been sick, and the last time I remember having a cold was 2 years ago.  I don’t think I’ve gotten a flu shot during my time at Bucknell, managed to avoid Swine ’09, and any random sicknesses that have swept through dorm halls.  Granted, I probably owe much of this to a strong immune system.  However, as years have gone by it seems that I’ve developed a skill of literally being able to make myself not get sick.  On the rare occasion I wake up with a sore throat or start to feel that sinus-y feeling of a cold coming on, all I need to do is drink some Vitamin C or soup that day, and convince myself that I’m no longer sick, and I routinely wake up 100% the next day.

I’m waiting for all my good fortune to turn around and kick me in the ass one day, but at least for the time being I’m fully convinced in the legitimacy of the placebo effect.

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6 responses »

  1. Kate says:

    I have also always been fascinated by the placebo effect. Like convincing yourself you are not sick, many of my sports coaches have told me that pain/soreness is mental. When I ran the 400 meters in high school, my coach used to tell me that the race was 80% mental and 20% physical. About 250 meters into the race, that’s when most runners “hit the wall” and your entire body starts to hurt. Even though it’s extremely difficult to do, when I forced myself to think that I was not tired, I continued to keep the same speed rather than slow down. Of course my body was still producing lactic acid, but my mental strength helped me finish the race at a strong pace. That mentality helped me during college practices as well. In my opinion, with enough practice, our minds can make us believe almost anything.

  2. Connie says:

    Paul – you’re from New York right? That’s probably where your strong immune system comes from. Who knows all the kinds of diseases that sweep through that place? I should know, I’m from New Jersey — apparently, a cesspool of garbage and disease. In all seriousness, I find the placebo effect so interesting. It’s amazing how intelligent we are as humans, yet our mind is constantly playing tricks on us. We associate all these inherent meanings with pharmaceuticals that play into how effective the various types of placebos are. For instance, I would personally believe needles are more effective than capsules because I’m able to actually SEE drugs being injected into my body. In contrast, sure we take the pill topically, but we don’t necessarily know when the drugs are absorbed into our system and how long it takes for them to have an effect.

    On a semi-related note, I wonder how brain processes optical illusions. I know when I find out something is an optical illusion, I try to challenge my brain to see if I can decipher it another way. An example I just thought of is the girl that is either spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise (or both for some!), depending on which side of your brain is more dominant (i.e., are you more right-brained or left-brained?) Personally, I can only see the dancer spinning clockwise, no matter how hard I try to see it the other way!

    See here: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/weird/the-right-brain-vs-left-brain/story-e6frev20-1111114577583

  3. Jordi says:

    You remember felix felicis in HP6? It does seem like we coudl take placebo pills all the time to help ourselves.

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