In recent decades reports have confirmed the efficacy of various sham treatments in nearly all areas of medicine. Placebos have helped alleviate pain, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory disorders and even cancer.
Placebo effects can arise not only from a conscious belief in a drug but also from subconscious associations between recovery and the experience of being treated—from the pinch of a shot to a doctor’s white coat. Such subliminal conditioning can control bodily processes of which we are unaware, such as immune responses and the release of hormones.
Researchers have decoded some of the biology of placebo responses, demonstrating that they stem from active processes in the brain. But how about the nocebo effect? Is there such a thing? Can the brain really accept a terminal diagnosis to the point of convincing someone that the dying is inevitable?
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