This activity page will offer:
Experience in mind and body connection
to explore how the brain interprets confusing sensations
The placebo effect and ritual expectations may extend beyond health
care. In fact, most educators are aware of a self-fulfilling prophesy
when it comes to setting outcomes in thinking. In this activity,
you'll explore how the manner in which a ritual is presented may
affect the outcome of its success.
Paper and pencil
(For the set-up)
- Devise a method for generating lists of fifteen random words.
Use this method to compile two lists, each written on a separate
sheet of paper.
- Identify a test group of six subjects. Select friends, family
members and neighbors who are unfamiliar with the placebo effect.
- Work with one subject at a time. Supply the individual with
the first list of random words. Give them thirty seconds to memorize
the list. Then, test to see how many of the words are recalled.
- Follow this test by offering a memorization strategy to the
subject. Explain that by creating a mental story that connects
random words, they will produce a powerful way of recalling the
word list. For example, suppose the word list included nurse,
bat, doughnut, run, and computer. The person could create a story
that begins with a nurse using a bat to hit a doughnut. An outfielder
must run to catch the doughnut but trips over a computer. It is
CRITICAL that throughout your conversation you are warm, caring,
and sincere about the success of this memory strategy. It must
be conveyed that you are certain that by using this strategy,
your subject can attain greater recall.
- Retest your subject using a different list of fifteen words.
Record the number of words they successfully recalled this time.
- Repeat steps 3-5 using the same positive and confident presentation
of the memorization strategy with two additional subjects.
- Select an untested subject. Repeat step 3. Then, offer the basic
parts of step 4. It is CRITICAL that throughout this explanation
you are cool, impersonal and less concerned about the success
of memory improvement. It must be conveyed that you are hopeful
that by using this strategy, your subject can attain greater recall.
- Repeat steps 6-7 using the same impersonal presentation of the
memorization strategy with the remaining two subjects.
- When the tests are complete, tally your results. Did you observe
any difference in memorization that might be associated with the
manner in which the "ritual" was presented?
- Tally the class result. Were any differences observed? If so,
were the results consistent among your classmates?
- How was the presentation of the memory boosting strategy varied?
Why was this important?
- Which style of presentation is more likely to demonstrate a
positive placebo effect?
- What was an advantage of pooling class results?
Is administering a placebo a deception in treatment? Is it ethical
not to inform the patient that they are taking a placebo? If the
placebo triggers self-healing as research suggests, is it not a
legitimate therapeutic? Think about these questions. Then suppose
you were a physician treating a patient whose suffering could be
relieved with a placebo. Would you administer the placebo? If so,
what would you tell the patient?
Suppose you were an attorney hired to defend a folk healer who used
chants and spells as a therapeutic for Parkinson's disease. How
would you present your case to the jury? What evidence would you
use to support your client's approach to medicine? Suppose you represented
a different client who was suing a witch doctor for casting an evil
spell. Could you make a case for this action? Is so, what would
you base the case upon?
Write a comical skit about a person who visits a physician seeking
traditional Western treatment. However, instead of recommending
operations and pills, the physician offers elaborate rituals, spells,
and exorcisms of germs. With your teacher's permission, perform
your work for the class.
Mysterious Placebo Effect
An overview of the placebo effect as applied to pharmaceutical
the Placebo Effect
Explores the placebo and rituals of healing as applied to hospital
Expectation to Improve Student Learning
A paper on expectations and how they relate to student learning.
and Training Paradox
Explores placebos and rituals in sports training.
Advisors for this Guide:
Suzanne Panico, Science Teacher Mentor, Cambridge Public Schools,
Anne E. Jones, Science Department, Wayland Middle School, Wayland,
Gary Pinkall, Middle School Science Teacher, Great Bend Public Schools,
Great Bend, KS