According to the Smithsonian's Surprising Science, the opposite effect of a placebo -- being told an harmless substance is helpful and the patient actually feeling better -- is true. This phenomena is called the Nocebo effect, "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.
Last week, researchers from the Technical University of Munich in Germany published one of the most thorough reviews to date on the nocebo effect. Breaking down 31 empirical studies that involved the phenomenon, they examined the underlying biological mechanisms and the problems it causes for doctors and researchers in clinical practice. Their conclusion: although perplexing, the nocebo effect is surprisingly common and ought to be taken into consideration by medical professionals on an everyday basis.
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