Sometimes the placebo effect stems not from a pill or treatment but from the patient's biases. A study published in March 2008 showed that expensive placebos are better than cheap ones. In another example, medical students in one study were given packets of red or blue inert tablets and told they were evaluating a new stimulant and a new tranquilizer. Those taking the red pills reported stimulant effects while those taking the blue ones felt depressed—reactions compatible with their association with the colors red and blue. Those who took a double dose of the pills had a stronger response than those who took only a single dose.
In clinical practice, the most important placebo effect may well be the doctor's attitude. In a British study, patients with various symptoms were divided into two groups, only one of which received firm assurance from the doctor that they would soon be well. Half the patients in each group were then "treated" with a placebo, while the other half was not. The doctors' positive attitude yielded a higher incidence of symptom improvement in both groups.
Stanford and Clatech researchers recently served two identical glasses of wine to subjects, telling them the first glass was from a $10 bottle and the second glass was from a $90 bottle. Subjects liked the more expensive wine almost twice as much as they liked the less expensive wine. Study after study has shown that people tend to enjoy something more when they have high expectations.
The placebo effect has a powerful affect on people. This effect may be seen in other places than in medicine or clinical studies, such as in belief in the powers of certain martial art “masters.”
Placebo Effect in the Martial Arts
We have all seen or heard of extraordinary feats being performed by martial art “masters,” such as touching a student and causing the student to be thrown backward or rendered unconscious. Some even claim to be able to perform this feat without any physical contact; they simply will the person unconscious. Some “masters” appear to heal a student’s injury in by simply passing their hands over the injured area.
While some of this may be fakery, some of it may be attributed to the placebo effect. If the student believes in the “master” and his or her teachings, the student may be affected by the “masters” touch, or non-touch.
Most “masters” will not subject their “powers” to scientific testing. Of the few who have, none has been able to get their “powers” to work when they are used upon non-student, non-believers. The powers appear only to affect those who believe in the “powers” of the “master.” As for their application to the martial arts, these “powers” would be useless against an attacker who did not know or believe in the “powers” of the “master.”
When people have been preconditioned to believe something is true, either through their upbringing, culture, or education, training, or experience, or lack of them, they tend to believe it, even when facts, reason, and common sense prove that is false. Politicians operate on the premise that if people hear a lie enough times, they will begin to accept it as the truth. Martial artists must be careful in accepting as the truth what their instructors say. After years of hearing the something said in every class, students tend to believe it to be true, even if they were skeptical when they first heard it.
People believe what they want to believe. You may find people who believe in most anything, such as ghosts, aliens among us, astrology, and all kinds of conspiracies. These people make their beliefs a major part of their lives and they constantly search for like believers and validation of their beliefs. To bolster their beliefs, they reject any facts or evidence that disproved their beliefs. In fact, any attempt to convince them of their false beliefs is viewed as a conspiracy against them and it bolsters their belief that they are right in their beliefs.
The placebo effect is not all bad; it may be beneficial. If one truly believes something will positively affect an outcome, then the belief may have a positive effect on the outcome. A person who believes they have been healed may actually feel better. However, most times, belief, no matter how strong, has no direct affect on an outcome. It is merely the rationalizations of the believer at work. For instance, let us consider prayer. If people pray for something to occur and it occurs, then they think it must be God answering their prayers. If the thing prayed for does not occur, they do not say that their prayers were not answered; instead, they say they must not have prayed enough, they must have not deserved an answer, or that their faith is being “tested” by God. For believers, if what is prayed for occurs, it must be an answer to the prayers. If it does not occur, then they have many rationalizations to account for it not occurring.
The same process occurs when martial art “masters” use their “powers.” When the “powers” appear to work on believers, believers think the “powers” are real. When the “powers” do not work on non-believers, believers say it because the people are not believers (duh), the people were not in accord with nature, the people have other resisting “powers,” or that the people used some special resisting technique, such as the “crossing of the toes” technique that George Dillman says prevented his “chi powers” from affecting non-students during filming of a demonstration of his techniques.
The human brain is very complex and complicated. It exerts both conscious and subconscious control over the body, and even itself. If another person convinces you that something is true in spite of all the evident to contrary, you will believe it, reject all attempts to convince you differently, and find evidence of the truth of your beliefs all around you. Once the seed is planted, the brain seeks verification. For example, you may not pay much attention to the Mini Cooper automobile and not think there are many on the road, but once you have one, you will start to notice them and see them everywhere.
A person who tries to fool you and take advantage of you is called a “con man,” which is a shortened version of “confidence man.” A con man first earns your confidence and then takes advantage of you. Con men are very good at what they; even people who think they are wise fall for the con. Some people think they are good at dealing with a car salesperson; but, no matter how good you may think you are, you only deal for a car once every few years, while the salesperson does it once a day. Unless you are a knowledgeable skeptic, you may be conned by anyone.
When dealing with the martial arts, beware of fakes, charlatans, and pseudo-masters, and of your own brain; even it can fool you at times.