You Are Not So Smart podcast 019: Placebo sleep and other new discoveries in placebo research

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You are Not So Smart is hosted by David McRaney, a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. In each episode, David explores cognitive biases and delusions, and is often joined by a guest expert.

How powerful is the placebo effect? After a good night’s sleep could a scientist convince you that you had tossed and turned, and if so, how would that affect your perceptions and behavior? What if a doctor told you that you had slept like a baby when in reality you had barely slept at all? Would hearing those words improve your performance on a difficult test?

In this episode we learn the answers to these questions and more as we explore how research continues to unravel the mysteries behind the placebo effect and how it can drastically alter our bodies and minds.

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Our guest is Kristi Erdal, a psychologist at Colorado College who discovered placebo sleep along with one of her students, Christina Draganich. Draganich wondered if such a thing might exist after reading all the literature on placebos, and Erdal helped her create the research methods she used to test her hypothesis. Erdal’s page at Colorado College can be found here.

After the interview, I discuss a news story about how important eccentricity is when it comes to evaluating an artist’s work. In every episode, before I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Natalie Sun who submitted a recipe for White Chocolate Oreo Cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at}

(Image: Medicine Drug Pills on Plate, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from epsos's photostream)