The Nocebo, the Nemesis of the Placebo Effect, Explained

We’ve all heard of the placebo effect before. We’ve heard that you can take a sugar pill and you may still have the same response as taking the real medication. That’s what’s placebo is about. If you were to give someone blood pressure medication and then you were to give another group of people a placebo that was supposed to be like blood pressure medication, you’d be measuring the difference between the two and see which one has a psychological impact and which one has a true physiological impact.

What a lot of people don’t know is that there is something else called the nocebo, and the nocebo works based on negative impact. Nocebos are things that make people feel worse, even though they don’t really exist.

Sometimes even just the mere suggestion of that negative impact can trigger your body to actually take on a negative reaction to something. In fact, there was a study that was done by The Technical University of Germany in Munich and what they looked at were 50 people, and these 50 people were suffering from back pain. And what they did is that they had these 50 people perform a flexibility test. Half of them were told that they were probably going to experience some form of pain, the other half wasn’t told anything at all. Well, guess what? The half that they were told that they were going to experience some pain felt significantly more pain. Whereas those that didn’t get anything told to them barely had a response at all.

So, I think is a well-suited example of how the nocebo works, and how just a slight suggestion of something negative can cascade into every single negative thing that could be happening to you that day. Simply because you’re believing it could happen. Now, this is just one small scale, but let’s take a look at some other things as well. There was a similar study that took a look at those who had prostate disease. They had prostate disorders and they were having issues with their prostates in general. They told them that a specific treatment that they were going to give them may cause some kind of an erectile dysfunction. Then another group that had prostate disease were told that there wasn’t going to be an issue with erectile dysfunction. Well, again, lo and behold, those that were told they were going to have ED, ended up having it.

Look, folks, I’m not here to say that the mind is the all-powerful thing that’s going to dictate exactly how your body works. But there’s a lot of science that’s starting to back it up. There are a plethora of ways of how we look at everything we do, the placebo effect and the nocebo effect of how we look at ourselves when it comes to our health and well-being. That’s exactly why I wanted to write this article because it is a pretty interesting subject. Our perception of how hard a workout or an activity is, greatly drives the success of our workouts. So, basically, if you go into a workout feeling like you’re going to have a good, hard workout, then the actual results will be more enhanced than what would have happened if you didn’t think about it all or thought negatively about your workout.

The nocebo effect and the attempts made to avoid it help explain the exaggeratedly bland hospital language that often exasperates patients. “This is going to hurt like hell,” seems charmingly honest, but it’s also something that can cause people to hurt more than they would for the comparatively disingenuous “some patients may experience some discomfort.” A few words are effective in causing or preventing pain.

The race is on to understand the precise mechanisms behind nocebo. Medical researchers are hoping that such an understanding will help to make the world a less stressful place. For now, it is just a long, tiresome battle between the ‘cebos.



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