A selection of top TED Talks on the placebo effect. What better way to introduce yourself to the subject?

1. Placebo Effects Make Good Medicine Better – Ted Kaptchuk

Renowned placebo researcher, Ted Kaptchuk, tells us what the placebo effect is and what it is not. He discusses his research over the last few years, giving you a great overview of how the doctor-patient relationship and treatment labelling can alter the placebo effect. He also by outlining the open-label placebo (placebos that patient’s know are placebos) and how they might work. We think that the honesty of open-label placebos makes them the most likely method for placebos to be integrated into healthcare, therefore, we really recommend you give this TED Talk a watch. We have also created a TED-Ed lesson about this video which you can engage with here: https://ed.ted.com/on/RiTK5RzG.

2. Harnessing the Power of Placebos – Alia Crum

What we know about the surprising power of the placebo effect and how we can put it to use. From surgery to asthma, placebos can be really effective. Placebos don’t just work by making us say we feel better, they work via specific neurobiological effects. So how can we harness that effect to our advantage?

3. The Power of the Placebo Effect – Emma Bryce

Whilst technically this is not a TED Talk, we felt it was worth of inclusion, because it gives a really good short introduction to the placebo effect. If you register on TED-Ed, you can also access a lesson related to this talk.

4. Are Placebos the Solution? – Luana Colloca

Luana Colloca explains how the placebo effect can be put to use in the treatment of pain. The expectation of relief can cause a release of endogenous opioids (endorphins) in the brain, which help reduce the pain. By manipulating this response, patients may be able to avoid opioids and their addictive qualities. Could placebos be the solution to the opioid crisis?

5. Change your Mindset, Change the Game – Alia Crum

The placebo effect has broad applications, from thoracic surgery to anxiety, Parkinson’s disease and high blood pressure. Alia Crum summarises research from Benedetti’s placebo research lab and their discovery that the process of administering a drug has a significant effect upon the effects of that drug i.e. patients who receive a morphine injection from a doctor have much greater pain relief than a patient who gets the same dose from a pre-programmed pump. She also explores the placebo effect in a non-clinical context and how we can harness the mechanisms of the placebo effect, by changing our mindset.

6. Is there Scientific Proof we can Heal Ourselves – Lissa Rankin

It’s not just new age gurus and advocates of alternative medicine who tell us that we have the power to heal ourselves – science is telling us the same via the placebo effect. We contain our own self-repair mechanisms and the placebo effect allows us to harness these mechanisms. Lissa Rankin, author of Mind Over Medicine, gives a brief overview of the wide variety of studies that support the use of the placebo effect from hair regrowth to healing an ulcer. She also touches on Ted Kaptchuk’s research into open-label placebos and the importance of the healthcare experience as a whole. Insightfully, she also warns us that if healthcare experiences can have positive effects, they can also have negative effects (nocebo effects) and doctors must be careful to avoid doing more harm than good.

N.B. Before you watch this, I’d like to point out that one flaw with this TED Talk is that she refers to a placebo effect cancer case – The Case of Mr Wright. Since then, the placebo effect has been found to be ineffective for cancer itself, although it can have positive effects for the symptoms and side effects.

7. The Magic of the Placebo Effect – Eric Mead

Magician, Eric Mead may be an unusual choice for a TED Talk on the placebo effect, but his lighthearted approach shows that even with all the science surrounding the placebo effect, there is still an element of magic in it. He discusses how the appearance of medications can make them more effective: injections are better than tablets, blue pills with letters on are better than plain white pills even if they’re all simply placebos. It is your belief, that makes those differences real.

8. Beyond Placebo: How expectation guides experience – Ray Seggern

What is it about mind over matter? What is is about suggestion providing relief? And in a broader context, that expectation can guide experience? How can we apply the placebo effect beyond medicine? How can we use the mechanisms of placebo effect to improve our lives? Ray Seggern may not be a scientist, but his talk is am interesting introduction to how the placebo effect could be used beyond the realms of healthcare.

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