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). Continue reading