New research seems to indicate that being pessimistic can dampen the effectiveness of even the strongest treatments.
Many have heard about the placebo effect, which is the healing power of positive belief. Well, being negative can cause the opposite, called the “nocebo” effect.
Even though negative thinking hasn’t been studied as much as the positive side, scientists believe it is overdue for doctors to begin looking more carefully at their patients outlook.
So, can a somber attitude really have negative effects? To find out, British and German researchers executed the most advanced study so far.
To perform the study, they attached a heat-beaming device to the legs of 22 healthy volunteers. Then they zapped it until the participants rated their pain at around 70 on a scale of 1 to 100.
Afterwards, the researchers gave them an IV of a strong morphine-like painkiller called remifentanil. It is usually used on patients undergoing surgery and it works quickly. It is also metabolized quickly. The researchers were able to switch it on and off as they alternated between administering the drug or plain fluid.
The brains of the volunteers were scanned while they described how much pain or pain relief they felt at various times.
While the researchers triggered the burn and secretly turned on the drug, the participants related that their pain improved quite a bit. Without expectations, the painkiller was working.
The real key was when the researchers told the volunteers that they were about to induce the painkiller even when they had never cut it off. These pain ratings decreased even more. So what does this mean? Expectations of feeling relief were actually doubled the drug’s painkilling effect.
Lastly, the volunteers were lied to again and told that the drug was going to stop and their pain would most likely increase.
As predicted, the volunteers’ pain levels surged up again to almost their pre-treated level as dreadful anticipation canceled out the painkiller’s effect.