You have most probably heard of sexually transmitted diseases, but not socially transmitted placebo effects.
The mind can have a powerful influence on the body, and in some cases can even help the body heal. The mind can even sometimes trick you into believing that a fake treatment has real therapeutic results, a phenomenon that is known as the placebo effect. In some cases, these placebos can exert an influence powerful enough to mimic the effects of real medical treatments.
Using iMotions’ human behaviour platform
, researchers have shown evidence of significant socially transmitted placebo effect.Theresearch team was composed of Pin-Hao A. Chen, Jin Hyun Cheong, Eshin Jolly, Hirsh Elhence, Tor D. Wager and Luke J. Chang.
According to the reserchers, medical treatments typically occur in the context of a social interaction between healthcare providers and patients. Although decades of research have demonstrated that patients’ expectations can dramatically affect treatment outcomes, less is known about the influence of providers’ expectations.
They systematically manipulated providers’ expectations in a simulated clinical interaction involving administration of thermal pain and found that patients’ subjective experiences of pain were directly modulated by providers’ expectations of treatment success, as reflected in the patients’ subjective ratings, skin conductance responses and facial expression behaviours.
The belief manipulation also affected patients’ perceptions of providers’ empathy during the pain procedure and manifested as subtle changes in providers’ facial expression behaviours during the clinical inter-action. Importantly, these findings were replicated in two more independent samples. Together, these results provide evidence of a socially transmitted placebo effect, highlighting how healthcare providers’ behaviour and cognitive mindsets can affect clinical interactions.
Chen, P.A., Cheong, J.H., Jolly, E. et al. Socially transmitted placebo effects. Nat Hum Behav (2019) doi:10.1038/s41562-019-0749-5