full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Emma Bryce: The power of the placebo effect

Unscramble the Blue Letters

In 1996, 56 volunteers took part in a stduy to test a new painkiller claeld Trivaricaine. On each subject, one index finger was covered in the new painkiller while the other remained untouched. Then, both were squeezed in painful clamps. The sjtbcues repteord that the treated finger hurt less than the untreated one. This shouldn't be surprising, except Trivaricaine wasn't actually a piileanlkr, just a fake ctocooinn with no pain-easing poieeprrts at all. What made the students so sure this dmmuy drug had worked? The answer lies in the placebo effect, an unexplained phenomenon wherein drugs, treatments, and therapies that aren't supposed to have an eefcft, and are often fake, miraculously make peploe feel better. Doctors have used the term placebo since the 1700s when they rzalieed the power of fake drugs to improve people's symptoms. These were administered when proper dgurs weren't available, or if someone imagined they were ill. In fact, the word placebo means "I shall please" in Latin, hitnnig at a htsoiry of pacntialg troubled patients. Placebos had to mimic the real treatments in order to be convincing, so they took the form of sagur pills, water-filled injections, and even sham surgeries. Soon, doctors realized that duping people in this way had another use: in cicnlial trials. By the 1950s, researchers were using placebos as a standard tool to test new treatments. To ealtuvae a new drug, for instance, half the patients in a trial might receive the real pill. The other half would get a placebo that looekd the same. Since patients wouldn't know whether they'd received the real thing or a dud, the results wouldn't be biased, researchers believed. Then, if the new drug showed a significant benefit compared to the placebo, it was proved effective. Nowadays, it's less cmmoon to use placebos this way because of ethical concerns. If it's possible to cpmaroe a new drug against an older version, or another existing drug, that's preferable to simply giinvg someone no treatment at all, especially if they have a serious ailment. In these cases, placebos are often used as a control to fine-tune the trial so that the effects of the new versus the old or alternative drug can be precisely compared. But of course, we know the placebos exert their own influence, too. Thanks to the placebo effect, patients have experienced relief from a range of ailments, including heart problems, asthma, and severe pain, even though all they'd received was a fake drug or sham surgery. We're still trying to understand how. Some believe that instead of being real, the placebo effect is merely confused with other factors, like patients trying to please doctors by falsely reporting improvements. On the other hand, researchers think that if a peosrn bveeiles a fake treatment is real, their expectations of rvcereoy actually do trigger physiological factors that improve their sotmmpys. Placebos seem to be clbapae of causing measurable cnahge in blood pressure, heart rate, and the release of pain-reducing chemicals, like endorphins. That eaxnlpis why subjects in pain studies often say pelcoabs ease their discomfort. Placebos may even reduce levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline, which can slow the hruamfl effects of an ailment. So shouldn't we creaeltbe the placebo's bizarre benefits? Not necessarily. If somebody believes a fake treatment has crued them, they may miss out on drugs or therapies that are proven to work. Plus, the positive effects may fade over time, and often do. Placebos also cloud clinical results, making secittsins even more motivated to discover how they wield such power over us. Despite everything we know about the human body, there are still some srangte and enduring mysteries, like the placebo effect. So what other undiscovered marvels might we contain? It's easy to investigate the world around us and forget that one of its most fcaatsinnig subjects lies right behind our eyes.

Open Cloze

In 1996, 56 volunteers took part in a _____ to test a new painkiller ______ Trivaricaine. On each subject, one index finger was covered in the new painkiller while the other remained untouched. Then, both were squeezed in painful clamps. The ________ ________ that the treated finger hurt less than the untreated one. This shouldn't be surprising, except Trivaricaine wasn't actually a __________, just a fake _________ with no pain-easing __________ at all. What made the students so sure this _____ drug had worked? The answer lies in the placebo effect, an unexplained phenomenon wherein drugs, treatments, and therapies that aren't supposed to have an ______, and are often fake, miraculously make ______ feel better. Doctors have used the term placebo since the 1700s when they ________ the power of fake drugs to improve people's symptoms. These were administered when proper _____ weren't available, or if someone imagined they were ill. In fact, the word placebo means "I shall please" in Latin, _______ at a _______ of _________ troubled patients. Placebos had to mimic the real treatments in order to be convincing, so they took the form of _____ pills, water-filled injections, and even sham surgeries. Soon, doctors realized that duping people in this way had another use: in ________ trials. By the 1950s, researchers were using placebos as a standard tool to test new treatments. To ________ a new drug, for instance, half the patients in a trial might receive the real pill. The other half would get a placebo that ______ the same. Since patients wouldn't know whether they'd received the real thing or a dud, the results wouldn't be biased, researchers believed. Then, if the new drug showed a significant benefit compared to the placebo, it was proved effective. Nowadays, it's less ______ to use placebos this way because of ethical concerns. If it's possible to _______ a new drug against an older version, or another existing drug, that's preferable to simply ______ someone no treatment at all, especially if they have a serious ailment. In these cases, placebos are often used as a control to fine-tune the trial so that the effects of the new versus the old or alternative drug can be precisely compared. But of course, we know the placebos exert their own influence, too. Thanks to the placebo effect, patients have experienced relief from a range of ailments, including heart problems, asthma, and severe pain, even though all they'd received was a fake drug or sham surgery. We're still trying to understand how. Some believe that instead of being real, the placebo effect is merely confused with other factors, like patients trying to please doctors by falsely reporting improvements. On the other hand, researchers think that if a ______ ________ a fake treatment is real, their expectations of ________ actually do trigger physiological factors that improve their ________. Placebos seem to be _______ of causing measurable ______ in blood pressure, heart rate, and the release of pain-reducing chemicals, like endorphins. That ________ why subjects in pain studies often say ________ ease their discomfort. Placebos may even reduce levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline, which can slow the _______ effects of an ailment. So shouldn't we _________ the placebo's bizarre benefits? Not necessarily. If somebody believes a fake treatment has _____ them, they may miss out on drugs or therapies that are proven to work. Plus, the positive effects may fade over time, and often do. Placebos also cloud clinical results, making __________ even more motivated to discover how they wield such power over us. Despite everything we know about the human body, there are still some _______ and enduring mysteries, like the placebo effect. So what other undiscovered marvels might we contain? It's easy to investigate the world around us and forget that one of its most ___________ subjects lies right behind our eyes.

Solution

  1. dummy
  2. scientists
  3. person
  4. placating
  5. capable
  6. drugs
  7. believes
  8. common
  9. recovery
  10. subjects
  11. cured
  12. called
  13. history
  14. looked
  15. change
  16. giving
  17. strange
  18. hinting
  19. properties
  20. realized
  21. study
  22. sugar
  23. concotion
  24. evaluate
  25. people
  26. compare
  27. clinical
  28. fascinating
  29. symptoms
  30. painkiller
  31. harmful
  32. celebrate
  33. explains
  34. placebos
  35. effect
  36. reported

Original Text

In 1996, 56 volunteers took part in a study to test a new painkiller called Trivaricaine. On each subject, one index finger was covered in the new painkiller while the other remained untouched. Then, both were squeezed in painful clamps. The subjects reported that the treated finger hurt less than the untreated one. This shouldn't be surprising, except Trivaricaine wasn't actually a painkiller, just a fake concotion with no pain-easing properties at all. What made the students so sure this dummy drug had worked? The answer lies in the placebo effect, an unexplained phenomenon wherein drugs, treatments, and therapies that aren't supposed to have an effect, and are often fake, miraculously make people feel better. Doctors have used the term placebo since the 1700s when they realized the power of fake drugs to improve people's symptoms. These were administered when proper drugs weren't available, or if someone imagined they were ill. In fact, the word placebo means "I shall please" in Latin, hinting at a history of placating troubled patients. Placebos had to mimic the real treatments in order to be convincing, so they took the form of sugar pills, water-filled injections, and even sham surgeries. Soon, doctors realized that duping people in this way had another use: in clinical trials. By the 1950s, researchers were using placebos as a standard tool to test new treatments. To evaluate a new drug, for instance, half the patients in a trial might receive the real pill. The other half would get a placebo that looked the same. Since patients wouldn't know whether they'd received the real thing or a dud, the results wouldn't be biased, researchers believed. Then, if the new drug showed a significant benefit compared to the placebo, it was proved effective. Nowadays, it's less common to use placebos this way because of ethical concerns. If it's possible to compare a new drug against an older version, or another existing drug, that's preferable to simply giving someone no treatment at all, especially if they have a serious ailment. In these cases, placebos are often used as a control to fine-tune the trial so that the effects of the new versus the old or alternative drug can be precisely compared. But of course, we know the placebos exert their own influence, too. Thanks to the placebo effect, patients have experienced relief from a range of ailments, including heart problems, asthma, and severe pain, even though all they'd received was a fake drug or sham surgery. We're still trying to understand how. Some believe that instead of being real, the placebo effect is merely confused with other factors, like patients trying to please doctors by falsely reporting improvements. On the other hand, researchers think that if a person believes a fake treatment is real, their expectations of recovery actually do trigger physiological factors that improve their symptoms. Placebos seem to be capable of causing measurable change in blood pressure, heart rate, and the release of pain-reducing chemicals, like endorphins. That explains why subjects in pain studies often say placebos ease their discomfort. Placebos may even reduce levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline, which can slow the harmful effects of an ailment. So shouldn't we celebrate the placebo's bizarre benefits? Not necessarily. If somebody believes a fake treatment has cured them, they may miss out on drugs or therapies that are proven to work. Plus, the positive effects may fade over time, and often do. Placebos also cloud clinical results, making scientists even more motivated to discover how they wield such power over us. Despite everything we know about the human body, there are still some strange and enduring mysteries, like the placebo effect. So what other undiscovered marvels might we contain? It's easy to investigate the world around us and forget that one of its most fascinating subjects lies right behind our eyes.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
placebo effect 2
fake treatment 2

Important Words

  1. administered
  2. adrenaline
  3. ailment
  4. ailments
  5. alternative
  6. answer
  7. asthma
  8. believed
  9. believes
  10. benefit
  11. benefits
  12. biased
  13. bizarre
  14. blood
  15. body
  16. called
  17. capable
  18. cases
  19. causing
  20. celebrate
  21. change
  22. chemicals
  23. clamps
  24. clinical
  25. cloud
  26. common
  27. compare
  28. compared
  29. concerns
  30. concotion
  31. confused
  32. control
  33. convincing
  34. covered
  35. cured
  36. discomfort
  37. discover
  38. doctors
  39. drug
  40. drugs
  41. dud
  42. dummy
  43. duping
  44. ease
  45. easy
  46. effect
  47. effective
  48. effects
  49. endorphins
  50. enduring
  51. ethical
  52. evaluate
  53. exert
  54. existing
  55. expectations
  56. experienced
  57. explains
  58. eyes
  59. fact
  60. factors
  61. fade
  62. fake
  63. falsely
  64. fascinating
  65. feel
  66. finger
  67. forget
  68. form
  69. giving
  70. hand
  71. harmful
  72. heart
  73. hinting
  74. history
  75. hormones
  76. human
  77. hurt
  78. ill
  79. imagined
  80. improve
  81. improvements
  82. including
  83. index
  84. influence
  85. injections
  86. instance
  87. investigate
  88. latin
  89. levels
  90. lies
  91. looked
  92. making
  93. marvels
  94. means
  95. measurable
  96. mimic
  97. miraculously
  98. motivated
  99. mysteries
  100. necessarily
  101. nowadays
  102. older
  103. order
  104. pain
  105. painful
  106. painkiller
  107. part
  108. patients
  109. people
  110. person
  111. phenomenon
  112. physiological
  113. pill
  114. pills
  115. placating
  116. placebo
  117. placebos
  118. positive
  119. power
  120. precisely
  121. preferable
  122. pressure
  123. problems
  124. proper
  125. properties
  126. proved
  127. proven
  128. range
  129. rate
  130. real
  131. realized
  132. receive
  133. received
  134. recovery
  135. reduce
  136. release
  137. relief
  138. remained
  139. reported
  140. reporting
  141. researchers
  142. results
  143. scientists
  144. severe
  145. sham
  146. showed
  147. significant
  148. simply
  149. slow
  150. squeezed
  151. standard
  152. strange
  153. stress
  154. students
  155. studies
  156. study
  157. subject
  158. subjects
  159. sugar
  160. supposed
  161. surgeries
  162. surgery
  163. surprising
  164. symptoms
  165. term
  166. test
  167. therapies
  168. time
  169. tool
  170. treated
  171. treatment
  172. treatments
  173. trial
  174. trials
  175. trigger
  176. trivaricaine
  177. troubled
  178. understand
  179. undiscovered
  180. unexplained
  181. untouched
  182. untreated
  183. version
  184. volunteers
  185. wield
  186. word
  187. work
  188. worked
  189. world