For decades now, scientists have known that the placebo effect seems to have an evil twin – the nocebo effect. If the definition of placebo effect is the power of the heart and mind to create seemingly miraculous change, then the definition of nocebo effect, it seems, is the power of our hearts and minds to do the opposite – to create suffering that cannot be attributed to any external cause.
At the Placebo Research Center, we are actively studying the nocebo effect, and we are excited to share with you a little about this interesting phenomenon. To understand the nocebo effect, we must first understand a little about the placebo effect and how it works. Then we must understand why the same placebo laws can actually create a nocebo effect. Finally, we must understand how avoid, as best we can, creating nocebo effects in our own lives.
A Little About the Placebo Effect – To Inform Our Understanding Of Nocebo
We define the placebo effect as the heart and mind’s ability to create seemingly miraculous transformation from within. Such transformation comes from a variety of factors that are discussed more in depth around this website, but in short they include: observation (how we see the world), belief (how we interpret what we see), and action (what we do in the world that underscores those observations and beliefs).
The combination of these factors, harnessed appropriately, can create an enormous placebo effect that has the power to enact immense change. At the same time, the combination of these factors, harnessed inappropriately, can be the result of a tremendous amount of pain, suffering, or side effects that we otherwise woundn’t have to face.
An Example of the Nocebo Effect – Understanding Its True Power
In a 1983, a book from the Institute of Noetic Sciences called “The Heart of Healing”, referenced a report in the World Journal of Surgery, the author of the study noted the effectiveness of various forms of chemotherapy in double blind placebo studies. An interesting side effect of the placebo chemotherapy, the author noted, was hair loss.
It turned out that about 30% of cancer patients given placebo chemotherapy (containing none of the chemotherapy ingredients known to cause hair loss) lost their hair. There was no physical cause of the hair loss. Just the simple combination of 1. observing themselves in a cancer ward + 2. believing they were taking a hair-loss causing medication + 3. engaging in the ritual of taking the placebo chemotherapy was enough to cause the hair loss!
How to Avoid Creating A Nocebo Effect In Your Life
To avoid suffering from a nocebo effect in our own lives, we must push ourselves to become conscious of the world we are observing, the beliefs we are creating about the world, and the actions we engage in to underscore those beliefs. We must ensure that our observations, beliefs, and actions reinforce whatever it is we want to achieve – whether that’s healing, strengthening, being joyous, or anything else.