Ep 230: Questionable Research – With A Famous Psychologist Involved

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Might you be able to rid yourself of an illness by “turning back the clock”? That is, by immersing yourself in a time in your life when you were not ill? We know that thinking about things in a positive way – which we sometimes call “reframing” can make us feel and act differently, and we know that the “placebo effect” is real, but how far can these ideas be taken Psychology has always struggled to separate itself from those who would “borrow” good ideas and take them too far or twist them in ways that promise people too much. We’re now more sensitive than ever about how psychological research is conducted and there are a lot of questions about a proposed new study by Ellen Langer that seems to be skirting some serious ethical issues in order to carry out a study with cancer patients – a study that could be done much less elaborately than is planned. Is this groundbreaking research, or as James Coyne suggests, quackery? We’ll find out what’s going on in this episode of The Psych Files. And by the way, what the heck is the nocebo effect? We find out.


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Put simply, it is the phenomenon in which inert substances or mere suggestions of substances actually bring about negative effects in a patient or research participant. For some, being informed of a pill or procedure’s potential side effects is enough to bring on real-life symptoms. Like the placebo effect, it is still poorly understood and thought to be brought about by a combination of Pavlovian conditioning and a reaction to expectations. – Scientific American, “What is the Nocebo Effect?”


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