Doctors Who Lie Help Patients Recover Faster

Physicians have long been counseled to have an emotionally sensitive bedside manner, but now scientists are discovering that a doctor's words also affect our biology.

Would you object to being lied to by your doctor if the lie helped you recover from an illness or surgery more quickly? Would you prefer the cold truth even if it meant prolonging your illness or recovery time? Physicians have long been counseled to have an emotionally sensitive bedside manner, but now scientists are discovering that a doctor's words also affect our biology.

Everyone is familiar with the placebo effect in which a fake medicine works on the body because the mind believes it is working, but so-called nocebos can also affect patient health. When a doctor uses negative or discouraging terms — there is "bad news"; your knee is "worn out"; medication will help "a bit" — the patient doubts his or her own faculties of recovery. And those doubts subtly become reality, say researchers. 

The issue was taken up by a recent BBC radio broadcast that addressed the problems of placebo, describing the complex discoveries being made by medical researchers.

“It’s easier to do harm than good,” explains Watts. “And this is worrisome, because nocebo’s negative influence can be found lurking in almost every aspect of medical life and beyond.”

The nocebo is a serious ethical issue because we deeply value both truth and health, but which would you choose? Professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, Dan Ariely explains the dilemma in more detail during his Big Think interview:

"We’ve done research showing that when you give people a painkiller, and you tell them it’s expensive, it works better than if you tell them it’s cheap. And it turns out that placebos are real. ... And now here is the dilemma: should we start prescribing more placebos in medicine? Should we lie to people more frequently? Because if we told people this is a placebo, it wouldn’t work. So we actually have to lie to them. But when we lie to them, it also works."

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

Keep reading Show less

MIT study: 24-hour fasting regenerates stem cells, doubles metabolism

This gives credence to the 5–2 diet, which has recently gained in popularity thanks to a large celebrity following.

Pexels, user @Deena

Chances are you're probably thinking about food right now in some capacity. Maybe it's close to dinner and you're wondering what you are going to eat. Maybe you had a really good lunch and are fondly reminiscing about your BLT, or whatnot. Or maybe, just maybe, you're thinking about not eating food for a while.

Keep reading Show less

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
Keep reading Show less