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The Power of Your Expectations
by Tom Goodman
November 4, 2015

We all know about the placebo effect, but now researchers are discovering that the "nocebo effect" exists, too.  And there's a lesson here about the impact of expectations on our reality.

When testing the effectiveness of a medication, some subjects will be given the real deal while some will be given a placebo, a fake pill.  Patients are only told they're in a drug study, and none of them are told whether they're on the trial drug or a placebo.  What's interesting is that sometimes the intended outcome of the real medication shows up in those taking the placebo.  The simple expectation that the medication will get them better seems to get some patients better.  That's what's called the placebo effect.

But now researchers are looking into what has been dubbed the "nocebo effect."  When a patient is warned about a medication's potential side effects, sometimes those unwelcome things show up even among the control patients on the placebo.  Medically, patients on a fake pill shouldn't suffer any sort of reaction, but the belief that they are on the real medication causes some control patients to suffer the side effects of the real medication.  They've reported the nausea, dizziness, impotence, blood-pressure changes, or gastrointestinal pains that they were warned may happen.

Ah, the power of our expectations.  And, ah, the power others have over our expectations.  Because, you see, researchers of the nocebo effect now caution doctors to be careful in how they communicate the possible effects of their recommended actions.  "Words are the most powerful tool a doctor possesses," the renowned cardiologist Bernard Lown once said, "but words, like a two-edged sword, can maim as well as heal."

Now, I don't partake of any poison fruit from the "prosperity theology" tree.  But let's acknowledge that our attitudes are powerful things.  Either hope or cynicism can have a real impact on whether we make forward progress in life.  It can have a real impact on the lives of others, too.

When Jesus stood at the grave of Lazarus (John 11), he told the man's grieving sister, "He who believes in me will live even though he dies."  Then he asked an important question:  "Do you believe this?"

How you answer that question makes all the difference in how you handle whatever deadness is in your discipleship, your marriage, your grown children, your dreams.

I'm holding out for resurrection.

Do you believe this?


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