“Suggestible You” is the title of a book by Erik Vance. The subtitle is “The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive”, Transform, and Heal. This post is about the placebo response and related phenomena. This is the ninth post on this book.
This post is on what might be called “marketing placebos.” You can market yourself to yourself through what you think about yourself and via self talk. “I have a chance, I think I should apply for the job, position, …” “versus “I have no chance for the job, position, …, so I’m not going to apply.” A much larger example might be, “life is not worth living” versus, “Such an opportunity life presents, think of all the things I can learn, all the things I can do, the nice friends I can have.” In fact, just forcing ourselves to smile can make us feel better.
Marketing placebos are like pain placebos in that they require healthy input from the reasoning prefrontal parts of the brain. Most companies achieve this in one of two ways. One way is by creating, cultivating, and enhancing a particular brand. The other is via the price tag. If a company tells you it has a new line of brain-enhancing drinks, and you believe it, you’ll likely find that, your cognitive performance actually improves after drinking it. And if they tell you it’s an especially expensive brand, your performance will likely go up even more. This same principle applies to branding. Vance notes that studies suggest that athletes perform better when they drink favored water out of a Gatorade bottle. And students’ test scores rise when they use a pen labeled “MIT.”
The researchers who did these studies correlated the subjects’ level of suggestibility to how they thought about the nature of intelligence and learning. Those who thought of intelligence as more or less fixed were more suggestible to brands than those who saw intelligence as fluid. So readers of the healthy memory blog should not be as suggestible to brands as people who do not read this blog. This is because growth mindsets are repeatedly advocated in this blog. If this point is not obvious, enter “growth mindsets” or “Carol Dweck” into the healthy memory blog search block.
Fad diets can be regarded as an example of marketing placebos. Key to the success of these diets, is a good story that makes the diet compelling. The placebo effect likely plays a large part in the initial success of the diet. And in the long term, few of them work. Lost weight usually finds a way to return.
Vance argues that this same expectation applies to most of the “toxins” we read about. He writes, “Evil free radicals and toxins are just stories. We buy them or we don’t.” And remember the role that social inputs play in amplifying placebo effects.
These effects extend to athletics.runners who thought they were getting blood doping shaved 1.2% of their times. Another study demonstrated that weight lifters improved their performance by 12% to 16% when they were taken caffeine (a known, albeit legal performance enhancer), but were actually only taking placebos.