Everyone suspects that buttons on pedestrian crossings, elevators, train doors, etc., do nothing. They are right. The BBC's Chris Baraniuk reports on the buttons that lie—and the power of the illusion of control.
Langer demonstrated this phenomenon experimentally by asking subjects to play a lottery. Some participants were able to choose their tickets and some of those tickets had symbols on them which were more or less familiar to them. The type of ticket had no effect whatsoever on their chance of winning, but they appeared to believe this was the case. Those who had chosen tickets with recognisable symbols were much less willing to part with them in an exchange than those who hadn’t.
But instead of framing this as an irrational delusion, Langer described the effect as a positive thing. “Feeling you have control over your world is a desirable state,” she explains. When it comes to those deceptive traffic light buttons, Langer says there could be a whole host of reasons why the placebo effect might be counted as a good thing. “Doing something is better than doing nothing, so people believe,” she says. “And when you go to press the button your attention is on the activity at hand. If I’m just standing at the corner I may not even see the light change, or I might only catch the last part of the change, in which case I could put myself in danger.”
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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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The head of Harvard's placebo program
is trying to figure out a good answer that question.
The "close-door" button in the elevator, the crosswalk button at the intersection, even the thermostat in your office — there's a good chance that they're all placebos
. Over the last 20 years or so, many (though, weirdly, not all) of these buttons have become technically useless, but are left in place both because it's expensive to replace existing equipment and because, psychologically, they still serve a purpose.
For only 6 British Pounds, you can cure what ails you with Placebo maximum strength sugar pills.
I'm a little sad that Etsy user spellingmistakes got to this idea before I could start marketing Placebex, as I've been threatening to do since approximately 2001. Maybe there's an intellectual property lawsuit in there someplace. ;)
And, before you ask, yes ... there really is some evidence that placebos work even if the people taking them already know that the drug is a placebo. Back in 2010, a study of ethical placebos used with irritable bowel patients got a lot of press. It was a follow up to a 2008 study that found roughly the same results.
If you want to read more on ethical placebos, I'd recommend checking out the following stories:
• Evidence that placebos work even if you tell people they're taking placebos by Ed Yong
• Meet the ethical placebo by Steve Silberman
Or, perhaps, you might like to purchase some Placebo maximum strength.
Via Darren Cullen