Confirmation Bias and the Placebo Effect

When I feel ill I want to get a confirmation of my diagnosis from my doctor – placebo effect.

I believe my doctor can help make me feel better – placebo effect.

I set myself up for what the doctor diagnoses – placebo effect.

On the way to the doctor’s office, I reassure myself I’m making the right move – placebo effect.

I may have to wait to be seen. I ruminate over my story about why I’m not feeling well. In my mind, I reassure myself again that the doctor knows best for me – placebo effect.

Doc asks me about my symptoms, confirming my belief that they care – placebo effect + confirmation bias.

In story form, I tell the doctor what and maybe why I’m feeling ill, hoping to elicit confirmation from them – placebo effect.

I anticipate the doctor’s perspective based on what I believe is their training and experience in treating others with the symptoms I have – placebo effect.

I cooperate to my fullest during the exam – placebo effect.

The doctor prescribes medication or other treatment instructions. I agree and thank them – placebo effect + confirmation bias.

I may have to drive to get my medications. All the way there, I feel so grateful my doctor is a good doctor and wrote me the right prescription – placebo effect + confirmation bias.

I take my medication as prescribed – placebo effect.

I anticipate getting better – placebo effect.

When I do feel better, I confirm my belief in the process – placebo effect confirmed.

There isn’t a moment that goes by free of confirmation bias – which bias strengthens the placebo effect. Which raises a question:

If most or all of my life is governed by the placebo effect strengthened by my confirmation bias, how much healing is actually done by someone outside me?

The Expectation Effect

Before I press down on the accelerator, I expect my car to move 'in a moment...' That's the Expectation Effect.

“In a moment, I’ll say a word and you’ll respond with…”

Hypnotists are keenly aware of the power of expectation in this common hypnotic setup.

The Expectation Effect is the basis for the placebo and nocebo effects we spoke about in our previous posts. We tend to get what we expect to get, “in a moment…”

My subconscious mind has no comprehension of time – which is why a full 8 hours after falling asleep, I feel that only seconds have passed. When I introduce an “in a moment…” expectation, my subconscious mind DOES IT NOW because it knows no other time frame.

Read more The Expectation Effect

The Placebo Nocebo Dance

People respond to genuine care and concern – empathy. There may be more to it than just care and concern, though, that makes some patients respond to treatment and others not so much.

When a physician tells me that a certain kind of treatment will very likely work for me as expected and generates some belief and hope in me, I am far more likely to respond as expected (I do like being right!). This is the placebo effect – it is real and it is powerful!

The dark side of placebo is the “nocebo” effect, a variation of which is “SNIOP” (Subject to the Negative Influence of Other People). Especially when those “other people” are authority figures – doctors, nurses, etc. – the effects can be devastating. The nocebo effect, too, is real and powerful. Read more The Placebo Nocebo Dance

What You Believe Matters

Belief that I have a chance of survival initiates a powerful part of me that applies it to this situation. The placebo effect!

Patients’ perceptions of illness, it seems, matters! Not only does it matter that a patient believes they will get better with treatment (placebo effect), it matters what they believe about the specific disease or condition being treated as well as the treatment plan.

Some research even indicates that what a patient believes about their disease is more important as far as outcome than the skills of the medical professionals involved.

“…a doctor can make accurate diagnoses and have excellent treatments but if the therapy doesn’t fit with the patient’s view of their illness, they are unlikely to keep taking it.” (Petrie)

Physicians and other health care professionals will definitely improve the quality of the care they provide by taking into account the patient’s beliefs and possible misconceptions about the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of their condition.

Read more What You Believe Matters

The Chemistry of Despair 2

In our last post, I described the sensations of my sense of despair. It felt like I was attacked by my emotions while recovering from  major surgery. The chemicals introduced to my body at that time caused reactions at both my physical and emotional levels of perception. I think the anesthetic medication left me feeling desperately alone, deeply depressed, and despairing to the point of hopelessness.

In the moment I experienced that episode in my life, I believed the messages of despair with which my mind was flooded. I just KNEW all was lost. I recognized that this feeling was foreign to my day-to-day expression of life, which is one of cheerfulness, humor, warmth, and gratitude.

The comparison between what I was feeling IN THE MOMENT and what I feel day-to-day was stark enough that I noticed the difference. This noticing prompted me to attribute my dark mood to chemistry – a temporary condition over which I thought I could exert some control.

I used attribution to temporarily and therapeutically assign a cause to an effect.

Read more The Chemistry of Despair 2