Of human folly

Jerome Groopman writes in this week’s New Yorker:

The study also yielded many ancillary insights. For example, several participants experienced what doctors call the ‘‘nocebo effect”: even though these patients were in the group randomly assigned to take a chemically inert placebo, they reported suffering from side effects associated with taking Prozac, like insomnia and indigestion.

In the “placebo effect”, a subject feels better because they expect to feel better, even if no drugs are involved. It’s easy to get a kick out of this because, hey, if the person feels better that’s just great, whatever the reason. The nocebo effected subjects, by contrast, felt worse because they expected to feel worse. Not only that, they felt worse in specific ways that they’d gone out of their way to discover. Here there is also an element of human folly, but it is at once more tragic and more delicious.