Tags: health | expectations

Do Expectations Influence Health?

Friday, 08 Jun 2012 12:56 PM


Can a daily glass of wine, vitamin supplement or pill make you healthier simply because you expect that it will? The answer may be “yes,” according to a new analysis of psychological studies that finds the power of suggestion – and our own expectations – can have a significant influence on our health and behavior.
The analysis -- conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School, Victoria University of Wellington and Plymouth University – examined numerous research studies that have shown that deliberate suggestions and expectations can affect how people perform on learning and memory tasks, which products they prefer, and how they respond to supplements and medicines, which accounts for the well-known placebo effect.
"We realized that the effects of suggestion are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think," said Wellington psychological scientist Maryanne Garry, who helped lead the analysis published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Garry and her colleagues said studies have found that our “response expectancies” set us up for specific outcomes simply because we believe they will happen. For instance, a shy person who expects a glass of wine or two will help him loosen up at a party is likely to be less inhibited and more outgoing. “Even though he may give credit to the wine,” researchers said, “it is clear that his expectations of how the wine would make him feel played a major role.”
Garry added that the same phenomenon may explain the placebo effect, where people who take an inactive, dummy medication nonetheless feel better afterward and may even have measureable changes in their vital signs.
"Although we might then give credit to some new drug or treatment, we don't realize that we are the ones who are actually wielding the influence," Garry noted.
The researchers said understanding what drives the power of suggestion could have significant real world implications in health and other fields.
"If a 'real' treatment and a 'suggestion' lead to a similar outcome, what differentiates between the two?" said Garry. "If we can harness the power of suggestion, we can improve people's lives."



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