Our minds are very powerful, and work with our brains to operate our body. Our mind plays a key role in our memory, feeling, intelligence, reason, perception, judgment (Restak, 1988). Sometimes we are unable to control our own mind. For centuries, we have been trying to find cures for various illnesses such as, diseases and cancers. Doctors have used different methods to treat ailments by prescribing oral medication, physical treatment, and/or vaccination. We use our minds every day to make decisions from something as simple as opening a car door to solving a math problem.
Researchers have been using placebos to understand how the brain can control its body to heal (Niemi, 2009). Placebos are used as a control in experiments as a pill or injection with no active ingredients (Wade & Tavris, 2008). In other words, it is a fake treatment. There have been many cases where doctors have used the placebo effect to heal their patients. Maj-Britt Niemi (2009) wrote about many case studies about doctors using a placebo on their patients. In his article, he wrote about a man named Mr. Wright, who was dying from cancer of the lymph nodes. This man had tumors on his neck, groin, chest, and abdomen. Mr. Wright heard of a new anticancer drug named Krebiozen, and believed that it would cure him. He had so much confidence that this drug was going to be the answer for his cure. After his first injection of the Krebiozen, his tumors shrunk by half, and he was feeling better. He was later released from the hospital. About two months later, he became aware of reports questioning the efficacy of Krebiozen and suffered a relapse. He informed his doctor about the reports, but his doctor told him that there was an enhanced version of the drug that would be more effective; however there was no enhanced version of the drug. Mr. Wright was very delighted to hear the news, and accepted the new drug. The doctors gave him an injection with no active ingredients. He had better results than the last injection, and was released from the hospital right away. He remained healthy until two months later; he read reports stating that Krebiozen was worthless. He died within a few days.
Doctors stated that Mr. Wright's improvement was due to the placebo effect. There are different ways to use the placebo effect. Researchers have used the effect when the patients are conscious, also referred to expectation, or subconscious, also referred to conditioning of the placebo. A patient's expectations and beliefs can affect the direction of an illness positively or negatively (Niemi, 2009). Mr. Wright's case was an example of the placebo effect while having a conscious belief in a drug. He had a lot of confidence in the enhanced version of the Krebiozen drug, and agreed to take the placebo injection, thinking it was Krebiozen, and was healed. Mr. Wright's conscious beliefs in the drug lead him to recovery.
There are two phases in subconscious conditioning. The first phase is the acquisition phase, and this is when the patient is treated with an active drug consistently over several days. The active drug would be considered the unconditioned stimulus. The patient will also be given a neutral stimulus, which could be water with saccharin. The neutral stimulus will then become a conditioned stimulus because it is paired with the drug. The second phase of conditioning is called the evocation phase. The patient will be given a beverage without the drug. The patient will have the same response to the beverage without the drug as the beverage with the drug. This is a way researchers train their patients to not depend on an active drug.
The placebo effect deals with the mind and the brain, and the brain controls how the body functions. We are looking at this process through a biological perspective. In the biological perspective, we search for answers through our bodily events. Psychologists study how events that occur within our body affect our behaviors, feelings, and thoughts (Wade & Tavris, 2008). Our brain communicates with the central nervous system through neurons. The neurons are sent throughout the body as messengers, and tell our body how to react to in different situations, such as touching a hot plate. We should also consider that the learning perspective has significance through the placebo effect. Through the learning perspective, we study how the environment and past experiences affects our actions (Wade & Tavris, 2008). Seeing a white lab coat on a doctor holding a syringe can cause a placebo reaction if patient has already experienced the scenario with feeling better (Niemi, 2009). The setting can cause a placebo reaction because the patient has had a recovering experience with it.
A neurobiologist at the University of California, San Francisco named, Dr. Jon Levine, made an interesting comment about placebos. He insisted that we are able to get the patient to turn on a pain control circuit in their brain to decrease the level of pain (Restak, 1998). If we can control our pain control circuit, we would be releasing endorphins, which are chemical messengers that reduce pain and promote pleasure. In the aforementioned story, Mr. Wright's mind affected his health. He was very sure that the Krebiozen was going to help him get better. His brain switched neurons from one neurotransmitter to the next by altering the message to heal (Restak, 1998). His body healed because his mind required for healing with hope and confidence in the drug. The placebo tricked the mind into thinking that it was an effective drug. Norman Cousins (2005) wrote that a placebo is ineffective if the patient has no will to live. The will in the person helps their body's own capability to fight disease. The placebo will help the patient's body make the most of itself, and will fight harder to be healthy (Cousins, 2005).
There have been experiments where scientists have trained their subconscious patients to recover through the placebo effect. When training their patients, scientists give their patients an unconditioned stimulus such as an active drug along with a neutral stimulus, such as a drink. Scientists will continue to give unconditioned stimulus and neutral stimulus for consecutive days or weeks. The patient's body will be accustomed to the active drug with the drink. When the scientist gives the drink without the drug, the body will respond to the drink as if it was given the drink and the drug. With this technique, scientists can control their patient's response by conditioning them. If the conditioning is effective, and heals the body, the body will continue to have the same reaction towards the conditioned stimulus. The body learns from past experiences, whether it was a good memory, or a bad memory.
If we can discover ways to cure various types of fatal illnesses just by using our mind, we wouldn't need to invest on expensive medication and also experience the side affect of drugs. Researchers have discovered that the placebo effect can shrink tumors; lessen symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and inflammatory disorders (Niemi, 2009). If we continue to explore and study how powerful a simple sugar pill is, we can discover more cures to help the people in need. The relationship between our mind and body influences sickness or health. A positive attitude can lead to good health as well as a bad attitude can lead to poor health. Our attitudes influence our health in a positive way if we have the will to set our mind to it.
Cousins, N. (2005). Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived By the Patient. Available from http://books.google.com/books?id=5RT_Zir78BoC&pg=PA55&lpg=PA55&dq=the+mystmystmy+placebo+norman+cousins&source=bl&ots=dLmZZLl4ft&sig=gihmr4PoGqru02_WZV0LfLfLf3M&hl=en&ei=tB5tStDtDI6osgOWu_3KDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1
Niemi, M.B. (2009, February). Cure in the Mind. Scientific American Mind, 42-49.
Restak, R. M. (1988). The Mind. New York: Bantam Books.
Wade, C. & Tavris, C. (2008). Invitation to Psychology. (4th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson- Prentice Hall