This week we’re learning how we can use hypnosis and the placebo effect to our advantage, with help from science journalist Erik Vance. Did you know, for instance, that you can still benefit from the use of placebos even if you know that you’re taking a placebo?
Listen to hear Erik explain the fascinating science behind how these psychological phenomenons work — and their potential uses for fighting pain, depression, anxiety, and more.
Erik is a staff editor for the New York Times’ Well section and the author of the book Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.
Highlights from this week’s episode
From the Erik Vance interview:
On the way the placebo effect works:
[T]here are two kinds of placebos, and one of them is a conscious placebo, where I just tell you this great story about this new nutrient or some new berry or something that harnesses the sun’s rays and, you know, and lets them rebound off of your ribs and then go up to your head and you say, “Wow!” You get really into do it, and then you have this placebo effect when you try it, that’s one. The other one is an unconscious placebo, where every time you take a little blue pill or every time you take a little triangle, white pill, you feel better. And that just happens throughout your whole life. And then one day someone gives you the exact same thing, but it doesn’t have anything in it. And you take it and you feel better. Even if someone tells you that’s a placebo and explained to you what a placebo is, that effects still might happen…Your brain just says, “Let’s just do that rather than having to reevaluate all the expectations around pills. Let’s make the pain go away.” And that’s basically the placebo effect, is it’s just your brain adjusting reality so it meets an expectation.
On why hypnosis research should be given more attention:
[I]n the fifties, there’s this guy who had this, what was called Acneiforma…It’s this sort of worts that that form on your skin that look like a fish scales. And they’re really, really uncomfortable and they bleed and they’re horrible. And [Dr. Albert Mason] actually almost completely cured a kid of this using hypnosis. Like the skin, like it sloughed off like he was shedding like a snake. We don’t know exactly how that happened, but like, someone should be studying it. We should know, like someone should be working on it. And it’s very hard to do with it, with the cultural connotations of that. It’s really a shame.
To hear more about the potential uses of hypnosis and the placebo effect, listen to the full episode.