The Powerful Placebo Effect

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Since Henry Beecher's 1955 seminal paper The Powerful Placebo, the concept of an inactive and suggestive sugar pill has fascinated the general public. Through its use in popular media and everyday conversation, the placebo effect has become a mainstay in most citizens rudimentary understanding of psychology. Unfortunately, Americans (including myself prior to investigating this phenomenon further) appear completely oblivious to the placebo's equally consequential yet grossly underreported counterpart, the nocebo. Brian Resnick, a journalist for the primarily pop-culture / politically-oriented Vox, attempts to shine a light on the placebo's problematic foil.
Resnick devotes a large portion of his op-ed to acclimating Vox's audience with the
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They began by introducing two alleged medical creams (both of which had no active ingredients) to participants, some of whom were told it was cheap while some were told it was expensive. This was reinforced by a previous study which showed blue-packaged pharmaceutical products seem more expensive than those with orange packages. Forty-nine participants were given the blue-packaged cream and forty-nine participants were given the orange-packaged cream, both being told that their cream was meant to treat atopic dermatitis. Participants were subjected to a heat-pain experiment in which they either were "treated" with the nocebo cream on one arm and a control cream on one arm. Throughout the experiment the area of skin treated with the nocebo cream was discretely raised in temperature using a hidden device, while the area of skin treated with the control cream was lowered in temperature to " let participants experience the supposed pain-augmenting effect of the treatment" (1). Lastly, MRI data of the participants would be taken so that pain-activation regions in the body could be …show more content…
While Resnick took little liberty when it came to the experiments research question and results, his explanation of methodology and scientific conclusions lacked much needed nuance. In terms of how the experiment was conducted, he failed to mention the control cream, occasional lowering of temperatures, and the number of participants in the experiment. Resnick proved to be even more careless when it came to the research findings, completely leaving out information pertaining to the MRI scans (mind you this comprised well over half of the researcher's conclusions) and unrelatedly using the results to account for a rise in gluten allergies. Though important portions of the original piece were left out, I don't see this as a strike against the author, rather, I view it as a humbling reminder of journalistic limitations. Scientific literature is complex and nuanced in nature, while on the other hand, editorials are meant to be concise and punchy. Understanding these two realities allows for the reader to simultaneously be weary and forgiving when it comes to the relaying of information outside of one's personal

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