What do you make of this headline: Placebos Are Getting More Effective. The article says over the last couple decades, placebos have been having an increasingly powerful effect. How can that be? My first thought was, "Maybe people are more gullible than they used to be." But the answer is far more interesting than that.
into the "placebo effect" started right after World War II. An
anesthetist, Henry Beecher, was tending to American troops in Italy.
Morphine was running low, so Beecher's assistant injected a soldier with
saline water but told the soldier it was morphine.
Beecher was surprised to see the shot helped. When the war was over, Beecher started looking into this phenomenon.
In a long but fascinating article in Wired Magazine, Steve Silberman explains why placebos are getting stronger. Here's his answer in a nutshell:
double-blind test against a placebo has become the gold standard for
good research on drugs. The FDA requires it, and the "placebo response"
(what percentage of people respond to a sugar pill) was established and
has been used for years.
But nowadays, more and more drugs are for mental health
issues, which are more influenced by the placebo effect than
straight-ahead physical issues. Your own depression, for example, is
more influenced by your expectations than, say, your cholesterol level.
result is: If you combine and average all the experiments, you clearly
see a stronger placebo effect over the years. Researchers may have to
re-study drugs like Prozac and Paxil — it seems possible they may not be
much better than placebos, now that we know the placebo effect is more
pronounced for the mental health problems those drugs were tested for.
interesting finding is that researchers have gotten different placebo
effects at different locations. Prozac, for example, has a greater
effect in studies in America than in Europe.
pill's shape, size, branding, and price all influence its effects on the
body," wrote Silberman. "Soothing blue capsules make more effective
tranquilizers than angry red ones, except among Italian men, for whom
the color blue is associated with their national soccer team — Forza
We call it the placebo
effect, but it isn't a single effect. The body can produce many
different physical reactions to expectation. If subjects think the
placebo kills pain, their expectation rallies their bodies to increase
the production of endorphins. If the subjects think the drug will make
them relax, their bodies react by lowering the stress hormone level in
"Mechanisms like these can elevate mood,
sharpen cognitive ability, alleviate digestive disorders, relieve
insomnia, and limit the secretion of stress-related hormones like
insulin and cortisol," writes Silberman.
words, expectation can rally the body to greater effort than it would
normally make. Remember, these people are taking the placebo to
alleviate a symptom they have been suffering with. Their bodies did not
produce this effect on its own before taking the placebo. Their expectation — their belief —
stimulated the body to do something it had not been doing up until that
time; something the body was clearly capable of doing all along.
I read this, I thought about aboriginal "healing ceremonies" where a
shaman or other well-respected healer chants and blows smoke and says
prayers, and maybe the family gathers around to participate in the
ceremony. With that kind of activity and intention, it seems likely (if
the sick person believed in it) that the ceremony could have many
positive physical effects that could, in fact, really help the person heal.
a pill handed to a Westerner by a doctor could rally the body in many
different ways, it seems likely a healing ceremony performed by a shaman
in that context could rally the body even more.
But most of us don't believe in that sort of thing, so what good does this do us? Well, we can
change our beliefs, can't we? I'm not saying we should start believing
in magic smoke, but we could change what we believe is possible. We
could change a limiting belief we have about our potential or our future
or our health. And if we did, couldn't that also change the way our
bodies physically respond? Of course it could.
So how can you change a belief? Two of the best methods are the Antivirus for Your Mind and Slotralogy.
The antivirus for your mind is a somewhat blunt instrument, requiring
no sophistication or skill, but it works very effectively. Slotralogy
works in a different way, and they work very well together.
you're doing everything you can to reach a goal but you feel somehow
stymied — whether that goal is physical or emotional, financial or
personal or marital — it may be a limiting belief holding you back.
Instead of continuing to beat your head against an invisible wall or
persisting in something that hasn't worked in the past, try belief
change. It's the next best thing to a magic pill.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.