By Chuck Lauer
I believe most of us have heard the expression, "the placebo effect," which in many people's minds has something to do with an individual swallowing a sugar pill and possibly feeling better.
There have been any number of studies done over the past few years about the placebo effect. In a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal, the editors recounted the story of hotel room attendants who were informed they were getting a good workout at their jobs and as a consequence, they all exhibited decreases in their blood pressure and in body fat after four weeks. The study was published in Psychological Science in 2007 and conducted by Alia Crum, a Yale graduate student, and Ellen Langer, a professor in the psychology department at Harvard University. Those hotel employees who were not told about exercise showed no change in weight.
Another study, published earlier this year in the journal Psychology, showed how mind-set can affect an individual's appetite and impact the production of a gut peptide called ghrelin, which is involved in the feeling of satisfaction after eating. According to the article, ghrelin levels are supposed to rise when the body needs food and fall proportionally as calories are consumed.
There are additional studies which show that supposedly inert treatments such as sugar pills and mock procedures can yield dramatic results for medical conditions like mental depression, migraines and Parkinson’s Disease. For instance, in a study that was published in Science magazine, it was found that the placebo was effective in improving Parkinson's Disease symptoms with results similar to real medication.
Then in the December issue of Clinical Therapeutics, it was estimated that some 30 to 45 percent of patients with depression will respond to a placebo. Furthermore, fertility rates have been found to improve in women getting a placebo, perhaps because they experience less stress.
Ted Kaptchuk, the director of Harvard's Program on Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter, along with his colleagues demonstrated that deception wasn't necessary for the placebo to take effect. For instance, patients with irritable bowel syndrome were assigned either a placebo or no treatment. Patients in the placebo group were given pills that were described to them as being of an inert substance and having shown in studies to improve symptoms via "mind-body self-healing processes."
According to Dr. Kaptchuk, participants were told they didn't necessarily have to believe in the placebo effect, but should take the pills anyway. After three weeks, patients in the placebo group reported feelings of relief, significant reduction in some symptoms and some improvement on the quality of life.
Of course the one question that probably comes to mind for all of us is why placebos work. Dr. Kaptchuk believes it's because the patients "were conditioned to a positive environment,” and the innovative approach and daily ritual of taking the pill created an openness to change.
In a trial published in the journal Menopause in 2007, 103 women who had menopausal hot flashes got either five weeks of real acupuncture or five weeks of sham acupuncture where needles were not placed in accepted therapeutic positions. A week after the treatments ended, only 60 percent of participants in both groups reported hot flashes. Seven weeks post-treatment, 55 percent of patients in the sham acupuncture group reported hot flashed compared with 73 percent in the real acupuncture group.
What all this proves to me is simply how important the mind and body relationship can be. We've all experienced someone telling us that we look tired first thing in the morning as we walk into the office or enter the classroom, and for the rest of the day we often feel fatigued.
The same holds true about dress in both men and women. Someone compliments you on your outfit and it gives you a feeling of satisfaction and pride. The same thing could be said about your work and getting a compliment from your boss or colleague for a job well done.
But a lot of people don't think that way. They take the negative approach in attempting to motivate others. Some bosses, for example, will tell an employee that the job they have done is not good enough and that they will have to start all over again. It's not only at work but in the classroom as well. A good teacher will help and mentor students while a good boss will do the same thing with the people he or she has the responsibility of leading.
Mentoring is critical for anyone who wants to help others succeed and improve performance. Look around you and listen to those who have experienced success in business, in sports and in the classroom. Without fail, they will always identify people who took the time and made the effort to help them up the ladder of success.
Also critical to success is a positive environment, a place where everyone is accorded respect and dignity. That's why a positive attitude is so important for any of us that want to be successful in life. I can't think of anyone who wants to be around negative people and work in a negative environment, but some companies just don't get it. Everyone wants to do a good job, but they need encouragement and they need to be treated well and complimented for their efforts. Senior executives who understand these truths usually end up with an efficient, effective and highly motivated workforce.
What is called the placebo effect in medicine should give pause to all of us as to how we can do a better job of motivating and helping others. Maybe a word of encouragement, patience and a positive attitude are the basis for the placebo effect to take hold in any endeavor, whether it be family, business or sports. Happy New Year!