Thursday, 23 October 2014

"If current-day physics can’t explain these things, maybe there are changes that need to be made in physics," says the longest-serving professor of psychology at Harvard

This piece, despite its rather horrible illustrations, is fascinating. It is about the amazing powers of the placebo and nocebo effects.

The bit about physics in the title comes from this bit:

"A few years earlier, Langer and one of her students, Alia Crum, conducted a study, published in the journal Psychological Science, involving 84 hotel chambermaids. The maids had mostly reported that they didn’t get much exercise in a typical week. The researchers primed the experimental group to think differently about their work by informing them that cleaning rooms was fairly serious exercise — as much if not more than the surgeon general recommends. Once their expectations were shifted, those maids lost weight, relative to a control group (and also improved on other measures like body mass index and hip-to-waist ratio). All other factors were held constant. The only difference was the change in mind-set."

On the nocebo effect, how about this:

"She recruited a number of healthy test subjects and gave them the mission to make themselves unwell. The subjects watched videos of people coughing and sneezing. There were tissues around and those in the experimental group were encouraged to act as if they had a cold. No deception was involved: The subjects weren’t misled, for example, into thinking they were being put into a germ chamber or anything like that. This was explicitly a test to see if they could voluntarily change their immune systems in measurable ways.

In the study, which is ongoing, 40 percent of the experimental group reported cold symptoms following the experiment, while 10 percent of those in control group did. Buoyed, Langer ordered further analysis, looking for more concrete proof that they actually caught colds by testing their saliva for the IgA antibody, a sign of elevated immune-system response. In February, the results came in. All of the experimental subjects who had reported cold symptoms showed high levels of the IgA antibody. Placebo effects have already been proven to work on the immune system. But this study could show for the first time that they work in a different way — that is, through an act of will.

The power of suggestion seems to work on aging - and perhaps it will work on cancer too. Read the article for the details.

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