Unlocking the mysteries of the human brain

Exploring the placebo effect:

Increasingly, placebo effects are being viewed as real and tangible, if mysterious. In various surveys, 45 percent to 85 percent of American and European practitioners say they have used placebos in clinical practice, and 96 percent of academic physicians in the United States say they think placebos have therapeutic effects.

This really fascinates me. I operate from an (admittedly layman's) perspective that the human body/brain is capable of overcoming most ailments on its own, without the intervention of laboratory concoctions. And I have no doubt there is a drug available that would cure me of that fantasy. ;)

For those who aren't aware of this, the placebo effect is the (so far inexplicable) curing of diseases or improvement in condition of those who were supposed to be part of a control group, who were given pills/capsules/injections of a neutral (fake) drug in order to better gauge the success (or failure) of the real drug.

The persistent question - why some people are more responsive to placebos than others - has long frustrated scientists. "There's decades of research that has more or less failed," Wager said. "New methods are going to let us get a lot more out of it."

Solving the mystery would potentially unlock whole new areas for therapy. Wager recently attended a meeting sponsored by the National Institutes of Health about enlisting multiple institutions in an effort to understand placebos. Several drug companies were present; some have begun their own research into the mystery.

Wager (who receives financing from the NIH, the National Science Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation) says drug companies are cautious about bringing too much attention to placebos, but recognize a potential for better therapies.

Of course they are. You can't very well charge $10-$15 per dose of sugar. But the $64 billion-dollar question is: If you told somebody they were taking a placebo in the hope that it would trick their mind, would it still trick their mind?


On a slightly different tack,

most issue advocates (including myself) frequently focus on the negative; how bad a situation has become. It is meant to be alarming, in an effort to shake people out of their reverie so that (positive) actions will be called for.

But, and I'm merely speculating here, does focusing too much on the negative force people into a "state of depression", from which mostly unsound judgments/decisions are produced? I think it's quite possible that much of the backlash against climate change/global warming scientific findings is rooted in this; it's such a depressing prospect that irrational thinking seems to have spread widely.

You would enjoy Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

I'm currently reading chapter 11. The chapter is named "The Power of Price" but it begins with a very thought-provoking description of the placebo effect.

BTW, Ariely, who teaches at Duke, will be at the Regulator, July 19th, promoting is new book.

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo

Thanks, George

I might just have to check that out. It's been too long since I've perused The Regulator's shelves, anyway.