Swimming in a sea of placebos

If a small white pill can have a placebo or nocebo effect on the human mind-body, why should the process stop there?Couldn’t we be swimming in a sea of placebo effects? Couldn’t we derive medical meaning from virtually anything in our world? After all, we are intensely interested in survival; it makes sense that we would be vigilant for health meanings everywhere.

It is safe to assume that placebo effects are at work in all medical and health care processes: surgery, chemotherapy, weight lifting, acupuncture, yoga, vitamin supplementation, psychotherapy, chiropractic and massage. But even beyond that, why should the effect stop with processes that take place in the clinic, the gym or in the hospital? Might there be placebos and nocebos in every corner of our social, cultural and media universe?

This possibility is brought to light in a recent report in Science Daily: "Think Memory Worsens With Age? Then Yours Probably Will." Researchers discovered that older adults' ability to remember suffers when negative stereotypes are "activated" in a given situation. In other words, belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Studies like these suggest that we are barely even beginning to understand the extent of the placebo effect; we simply don’t know how far this might go. For all we know, every single event, process, idea and substance in a person’s life will have a life-enhancing or life-destroying power to it.