We’ve all heard of the placebo effect, that is some people will seem to experience benefit from a “drug” they think they are taking, even when they are not. But a new study on pain found that even when pain controlling drugs are being administered, if the subject believes they are not, the efficacy substantially decreases. From the story:
First, 22 volunteers had a pain device put on their skin that was too hot for comfort. Each then had an intravenous line attached to deliver a powerful opiate-based painkiller. The volunteers were asked to rate the pain before any painkiller was introduced. The average score, from 0 to 100, was 66. Then the researchers started providing the painkiller, without telling the volunteers they had done so. The average score dropped to 55.
But when the scientists told them they had started administering the painkiller the score dropped again to 39. When they said they had stopped providing the painkiller, the score rose to 64 – even though the opiate was still flowing.
The power of mere belief to profoundly influence what should be purely biological reactions. Pretty exceptional.
But it raises a question. Is “belief” a physical or an incorporeal phenomenon? Did the subjects merely experience an autonomic manifestation of the brain, an as yet undiscovered biological phenomenon that overrode another brain function; the translation of nerve impulses into the “experience” or “absence” of pain? Or is there more to us than mere neurons, synapses, and chemical reactions? Do our minds exist in some fashion removed from our brains, possessing a limited power to rule over our naked biology? Not an original question, but still an intriguing subject.