Friday, October 2, 2009

"I Shall Be Pleasing" or "Placebo" in Latin

The brain and the mind continue to surprise and amaze.  In the interests of a so-called ‘gold standard’ in science, we try to test a drug or procedure against a worthy alternative.  We don’t want to get too tricky or complicated so we try to run a control group that gets something acceptable as a treatment but thought by the researcher to be null, void, dull, zilch.  As usual, it is not that easy to find something acceptable, attractive but genuinely empty of content and effect.
Wired magazine has a good article on placebos.  It turns out that aspirin vs. sugar pills that are red will give slightly different results for the placebo group from a group that gets sugar pills that are blue.  The article discusses the effects of different colors of pills.
Now the Mind Hacks blog has an article on research by Martina Amanzio and her associates who compared the ‘side effects’ found in the placebo groups of 3 different studies on quite different types of drugs.  They found that the ‘side effects’ from the placebo for one type of drug were more similar to the side effects of the actual drug than to placebo effects in a different study.
The link above to the Amanzio study mentions that all participants in a study get told the side effects that might come up so maybe the placebo group is primed by that information. 
The best single book I know about the brain/mind is The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD.  It is exciting and wide-ranging.  [Note to Mike and Gyneth: it is also available in Kindle format, hope you get the device, you’ll see its value, only $299 now.] One aspect of the brain/mind that is fascinating but also confusing for theory is the growing clarity we have that the mind/brain and the body are connected!  They aren’t separate and they interact all the time.  In one way, that is totally obvious but it doesn’t make increasing our understanding of the whole human ball of wax neurons and other stuff easy.

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