In this article we will discuss some of the scientific studies undertaken to give credence to the idea that our beliefs, expectations, thoughts and emotional states affect our physical reality and can create or heal disease.
We will begin the most well-known and well-studied effect – the placebo effect and move on from there.
The Placebo Effect
The placebo effect is a “psychological phenomenon, in which the recipient perceives an improvement in condition due to personal expectations, rather than the treatment itself.”1
The placebo effect is one of the most striking examples of idealism – that is, mind or consciousness creates reality; or physical reality is created by consciousness (thoughts, expectations, beliefs, emotions).
If the universe operated by strictly chemical-mechanical rules then the placebo effect would not work ever. The fact that not only does it work, but it works on such a grand scale, gives us inarguable evidence that the mind absolutely does affect physical material reality. One cannot logically argue that mind does not have an effect on matter, but can only argue to how much an effect mind has on matter.
It has been extensively researched in hundreds of different studies around the world.
Interestingly, research suggests some placebos are more effective than others. “Large pills seem to work better than small pills, colored pills work better than white pills, an injection is more powerful than a pill and surgery gives a stronger placebo effect than injections do.”2
“Research has also shown when it comes to specific psychological disorders, such as mild or moderate depression, placebos have the same effects compared to antidepressants.”3
On average, 35% of all people who receive a given placebo will experience a significant effect.
In is interesting to note that the placebo effect has been seen to grow stronger over the years.
This trend was co-discovered by McGill University pain researcher Jeffrey Mogil.
He states, “The placebo response is growing bigger over time…and it’s not just growing stronger in pain medicine. Placebos are growing in strength in antidepressants and anti-psychotic studies as well.”
“The placebo effect is related to the perceptions and expectations of the patient; if the substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal, but, if it is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects, which is known as the nocebo effect.
In 1985, Irving Kirsch hypothesized that placebo effects are produced by the self-fulfilling effects of response expectancies, in which the belief that one will feel different leads a person to actually feel different. According to this theory, the belief that one has received an active treatment can produce the subjective changes thought to be produced by the real treatment. Placebos can act similarly through classical conditioning, wherein a placebo and an actual stimulus are used simultaneously until the placebo is associated with the effect from the actual stimulus. Both conditioning and expectations play a role in placebo effect, and make different kinds of contribution. Conditioning has a longer-lasting effect, and can affect earlier stages of information processing. Those that think that a treatment will work display a stronger placebo effect than those that do not, as evidenced by a study of acupuncture.”4
Factors Affecting the Effectiveness of a Placebo:
- The method in which it is given:
- Injections are generally perceived as more potent than pills – giving a placebo in an injection can enhance its effectiveness.
- Capsules are often seen as more effective than tablets.
- The size, shape, and color of a pill
- In a study designed to determine the suggestive value of a pill’s color, researchers found:
- People tend to view yellow or orange pills as mood manipulators, either stimulants or depressants.
- Dark red pills are assumed to be sedatives; lavender pills, hallucinogens; and white pills, painkillers.
- The attitude the doctor conveys when he prescribes the placebo.
- “In the 2000s, Harvard’s Ted Kaptchuk and colleagues conducted an experiment to see if usually intangible traits like warmth and empathy help make patients feel better. In the experiment, 260 participants were split into three groups. One group received sham acupuncture from a practitioner who took extra time asking the patient about their life and struggles. He or she took pains to say things like, “I can understand how difficult IBS must be for you.” A second group got sham acupuncture from a practitioner who did minimal talking. A third group was just put on a waiting list for treatment.
- The warm, friendly acupuncturist was able to produce better relief of symptoms. “These results indicate that such factors as warmth, empathy, duration of interaction, and the communication of positive expectation might indeed significantly affect clinical outcome,” the study concluded.”5
It is clear from this that even information received subliminally can contribute greatly to the beliefs and mental images that impact our health.
Our minds have the power to get rid of warts, to clear our bronchial tubes, and to mimic the painkilling ability of morphine, but because we are unaware that we possess the power, we must be fooled into using it.
When we are fortunate enough to bypass our disbelief and tap the healing forces within us, we can cause tumors to melt away overnight.
The federal Office of Technology Assessment estimates that more than 75 percent of all current medical treatments have not been subjected to sufficient scientific scrutiny, a figure that suggests that doctors may be giving placebos and not know it.
Dr. Lewis Thomas
Dr. Lewis Thomas (1913-1993) was an American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist and researcher who became Dean of Yale Medical School and New York University School of Medicine and President at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Dr. Thomas tells of one physician who regularly rid his patients of warts simply by painting a harmless purple dye on them.
He feels that explaining this small miracle by saying it’s just the unconscious mind at work doesn’t begin to do the placebo effect justice.
“If my unconscious can figure out how to manipulate the mechanisms needed for getting around that virus, and for deploying all the various cells in the correct order for tissue rejection, then all I have to say is that my unconscious is a lot further along than I am,” he states.
Dr. Thomas “was an optimist whose enthusiasm for nature and constant surprise at his discoveries suffused his writing. To him, science was high adventure. His vision of the world was one of symbiotic cooperation among species. He believed that nature was essentially benign and that man was programmed for altruism and honesty.”6
Mind-Body Connection Studies
Deb Schnitta is a flow alignment practitioner used in Elizabeth Targ’s remote healing studies (See Article 143).
Schnitta found that the AIDS virus fed on fear – the type of fear that might be experienced by anyone shunned by the community, such as many homosexuals were.
Studies of heart patients shown that isolation from oneself, one’s community and one’s spirituality – rather than physical conditions, such as high cholesterol count – is one of the greatest contributors to disease.
Studies of longevity found people who live the longest often believe in a higher spiritual being and also have a strong sense of community.
Dr. Carl Simonton is a radiation oncologist & medical director at the Cancer Counseling and Research Center in Dallas, TX,
Dr. Simonton taught Frank, a severe cancer patient, relaxation and mental-imagery techniques.
For three times a day Frank visualized the cancer cells weakening and imagined himself with full health. He used specific techniques for this process.
These techniques led to dramatic results. The radiation treatments seemed to work like magic.
Frank experienced almost no side effects to radiation (damage to skin & mucous membranes). He also regained lost weight & strength.
In 2 months all cancer signs vanished.
At a later date his condition relapsed and eventually took his life. This situation speaks the fact that a person must come to terms with and learn to transform the underlying root conditions or beliefs that create a disease in order to fully heal and remain healed.
Jeanne Achterberg is director of research and rehabilitation science at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Dallas, TX.
Dr. Achterberg says that belief is also critical to a person’s health.
“She points out, virtually everyone who has had contact with the medical world knows at least one story of a patient who was sent home to die, but because they “believed” otherwise, they astounded their doctors by completely recovering.
Her book Imagery in Healing describes several of her own encounters with such cases.
Because of these and other findings Achterberg thinks that a person with an illness, even a common cold, should recruit as many “neural holograms” of health as possible – in the form of beliefs, images of well-being and harmony, and images of specific immune functions being activated.
She feels we must also exorcise any beliefs and images that have negative consequences for our health, and realize that our body holograms are more than just pictures.
They contain a host of other kinds of information including intellectual understandings and interpretations, prejudices both conscious and unconscious, fears, hopes, worries, and so on.”7
Shlomo Breznitz is a psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Dr. Breznitz conducted experiments on soldiers where the soldiers would be given estimates of distances they had to march that day. Sometimes the estimates given were close to the actual distance. Other times the estimate diverged widely from the actual. He found that the stress hormone levels in the soldiers’ blood always reflected their estimates and not the actual distance they had marched.
In other words, their bodies responded not to reality, but to what they were imaging as reality.8
Dr. Charles A Garfield spent hundreds of hours interviewing athletes and sports researchers around the world.
He says the Soviets have incorporated sophisticated imagery techniques into many of their athletic programs and that they believe mental images act as precursors in the process of generating neuromuscular impulses.
Dr. Garfield believes imagery works because movement is recorded holographically in the brain.
In his book Peak Performance: Mental Training Techniques of the World’s Greatest Athletes, he states, “These images are holographic and function primarily at the subliminal level. The holographic imaging mechanism enables you to quickly solve spatial problems such as assembling a complex machine, choreographing a dance routine, or running visual images of plays through your mind.”9
Larry Dossey is a physician who believes that imagery is not the only tool the holographic mind can use to effect changes in the body. Another is simply the recognition of the unbroken wholeness of all things.
As Dossey observes, we have a tendency to view illness as external to us. Disease comes from without and besieges us, upsetting our well-being. But if space and time, and all other things in the universe, are truly inseparable, then we cannot make a distinction between health and disease.
How can we put this knowledge to practical use in our lives? When we stop seeing illness as something separate and instead view it as part of a larger whole, as a milieu of behavior, diet, sleep, exercise patterns, and various other relationships with the world at large, we often get better, says Dossey.
By keeping a diary or watching a videotape, the subjects were able to see their condition in relationship to the larger pattern of their lives. When this happens, illness can no longer be viewed “as an intruding disease originating elsewhere, but as part of a process of living which can accurately be described as an unbroken whole,” says Dossey.
“When our focus is toward a principle of relatedness and oneness, and away from fragmentation and isolation, health ensues.”
Dossey feels the word patient is as misleading as the word particle.
Instead of being separate and fundamentally isolated biological units, we are essentially dynamic processes and patterns that are no more analyzable into parts than are electrons.
More than this, we are connected – connected to the forces that create both sickness and health, to the beliefs of our society, to the attitudes of our friends, our family, and our doctors, and to the images, beliefs, and even the very words we use to apprehend the universe.10
- Brannon, Linda and Feist, Jess, Health Psychology: An Introduction to Behavior and Health, https://books.google.com/books?id=NfCDR_Yl7f0C&lpg=PA21&ots=K0nNndldOB&dq=large%20pills%20capsules%20placebos&pg=PA21#v=onepage&q=large%20pills%20capsules%20placebos&f=false
- Khan, Arif; Brown, Walter (25 September 2015). Antidepressants versus placebo in major depression: an overview. World Psychiatry. 14 (3): 294–300. doi:1002/wps.20241. PMC 4592645 . PMID 26407778.
- Resnick, Brian, The weird power of the placebo effect, explained, 7 July 2017, Vox, https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/7/7/15792188/placebo-effect-explained
- Berger, Marilyn, Lewis Thomas, Whose Essays Clarified the Mysteries of Biology, Is Dead at 80, 4 December 1993, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/12/04/obituaries/lewis-thomas-whose-essays-clarified-the-mysteries-of-biology-is-dead-at-80.html?pagewanted=all
- Talbot, Michael, The Holographic Universe, Harper Perennial, 1991