You know, of course, about the placebo effect, in which patients report positive results from taking a mere sugar pill. Turns out there is also something called a nocebo effect, too. This is defined as a negative placebo effect. It happens, for example, when patients take medications and actually experience adverse side effects unrelated to any specific pharmacological action of the drug. The nocebo effect is associated with a person’s prior expectations of adverse effects from the treatment. In other words, if we expect a treatment to hurt us, cause harm, or make us feel sick – it likely will.
The U.K.’s bright and brainy Dr. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science describes this phenomenon in this short but entertaining presentation from last year’s irreverent Nerdstock tour (“Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People). He offers three “properly insane” examples of the nocebo effect. He tells us, for example, how placebos can not only make people feel better (the active placebo effect), but if warned about non-existent side effects before they take a harmless placebo, patients actually can develop these side effects.
One of the stories he tells is about a study in which asthma patients are put on a saline nebulizer, essentially a simple salt water mist that will neither hurt nor help asthmatics. But when these research subjects are told that the mist contains an allergen, fully half of the group experience an asthma attack because of the harmless saline nebulizer.
Sit back and enjoy watching Dr. Ben Goldacre’s entertaining 5-minute BBC presentation. See also: Amazing and Strange Examples of Placebo Miracle Effects
Warning: rapid-fire delivery and some racy language that may be offensive to some!
Once I got used to this doc’s “rapid fire” delivery, I found his message to be absolutely compelling. Fascinating stuff. Thx….
Thank you! Loved Dr. Ben’s examples of “nocebos”.
Oh I wish I could watch the videos… (I have dial-up; and not that much patience).
There is a person that keeps touting this “nocebo” effect- Especially as I begin to list the problems I have had since I was given Reclast last year.
Problem is I had not done my homework on bisphosphonates, and so had no prior knowledge of any of the dangers.
I now pay the price for having gotten that single treatment, looking for a miracle cure for my osteoporosis. I know now that there is no such thing! (Save for diet modification, supplementation, and as much exercise as my 27 vertebral fractures will allow me to do).
Hi Annie – here’s a non-video version of a Bad Science article on the nocebo effect from Dr. Goldacre that might interest you. Hang in there!
Hi Carolyn, Ben Goldacre is a driving force behind the extremely awesome AllTrials.net initiative. Didn’t know he was a funny rapid-fire science guy too! Wonderful!
Hello Natasha – nice to hear from you again. If you liked this, you’ll love Ben’s books too! 🙂