Nocebo Effect


Nocebo Effect

placebo noceboMost people have heard of the placebo effect, but relatively few have heard of the nocebo effect, including the circles of the medical staff. For the first time this phenomenon, which is in fact is the evil twin of placebo effect, was named in the 1961st year. Nocebo effect is the ability of negative beliefs and expectations that cause damage, ie negative effects in the body.

While the placebo effect can achieve positive results in treatment which normally should not have any effect (eg, sugar pill), nocebo effect has reverse result in terms of health, due to the worst expectations. What patient expects, unfortunately, the patient usually receives.

The placebo effect is very powerful and regardless of whether the physician and the patient is aware of it or not, it represents a significant part of the healing process to the treatment methods of ancient cultures, as well as in modern medicine. A large number of medical staff is surprisingly indifferent to the positive suggestion, though it goes in their favor.

Maybe it’s because treatment would not act scientifically. Medications have their role, but understanding how the human mind processes information is very important. If doctors do not want to know about the placebo effect definition, imagine how just thinking about the nocebo and the idea that what they say can cause the patient to get even sicker! Of course there are always exceptions, and luckily growing number of doctors who think differently.

Nocebo Effect Definition

noceboPlacebo and nocebo in particular, are not sufficiently studied, simply because there is still no way to scientifically explain these phenomena, although there are many scientifically proven results of both phenomena. Also, pharmaceutical companies are not financially interested in performing such studies, because there is nothing that can be patented.

There is another good reason for the hostility towards the implementation of nocebo experiment – the fact that many people feel the way it is suggested that they will feel. Since these are negative health effects, it is possible that this is the cause of the insufficient number of scientific research.

Nocebo effect can occur in several different situations:

  • The direct interaction of doctor or specialist and a patient, where each party has its own expectations. What the patient trusts the doctor, nocebo effect is greater. For example – when a doctor says negative outlook, sometimes even a “death sentence” to the patient, for example: “You have  another 3 months of life,” and it normally happens, even if the initial diagnosis was not correct!
  • General beliefs and expectations of the patient outside the therapeutic situation.
  • Expectations and beliefs that have emerged in certain groups

The observation of various scientific researches of placebo and nocebo influence, showed that the placebo effect (the belief that something positive will happen) is effective on average 33% -55%. On the other hand, the nocebo effect (the belief that something negative will happen) proved to be effective with a staggering 55% -100%. This means that we are more than twice susceptible to the negative rather than positive suggestion.

I always recall the words of Dr. David Pesek, a recognized world authority on the emotional aspect of iridology: “When a doctor tells us that we can expect a disease because it is in our family, we need to flee from such a physician and seek another.”

“Nocebo effect often causes physical changes, although these effects are not caused by any physical means, “said Irving Kirsch, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut, who studies the ways in which expectations affect the human experience.” What is the cause? In many cases, this question still has no answer. ”

Nocebo Definition – Nocebo Effect Definition

Instead of writing the nocebo effect definition I will state some researches that proved this phenomena:

  • The group of patients in the hospital was given sugar water, for which they thought to have a effect that causes vomiting. 80% of the group  vomited sugar water.
  • Study with aspirin and other medicines that dilute blood was carried out in three medical centers with unexpected results. At two locations, patients were alerted to possible stomach problems that are often side effect in the frequent use of aspirin. At the third location the patients did not receive such a warning. When they worked on the results of the experiment, the researchers were surprised when they saw that the two groups who were warned of the side effects  were three times as frequent, then in the third group.

At the end of this article it is interesting to note the results of research in America which showed that since the Act of hazardous cigarette nicotine warning was introduced (cigarettes harm your health, smoking kills, smoking causes lung cancer …) – the average of the mortality of smokers increased.  Seeing the words “smoking kills” daily, has a very strong influence on every smoker health.

Even though the nocebo and the nocebo effect is proven to has a strong influence on every human, we still do not know enough about this phenomena. It may be because it has negative effect, but only by knowing its full potential and definition, we can reverse nocebo into placebo.



Doctor at Klinikum Rechts der Isar in Munich, Germany. Philantropist and a musician. Currently living in New York.