I sat down in the family room to watch television and noticed that “Two and a Half Men” was on. I flipped to that station so that I could have it on in the background while I checked the listings to see what else was on.
It was the episode of “Two and a Half Men” during which Alan is desperately trying to make extra money because Charlie has hit a dry spell. Charlie is confident that money will show up and Alan is panicking and subjecting himself to humiliating jobs. Alan is shown with a golf-ball sized lump on his forehead and partial hair loss. He had been selling himself as a human research animal.
Alan says, “I guess I’m not in the control group.” This is supposed to be funny because it is so obvious that he is having a reaction to the drug–hence the welt on his forehead and the missing clumps of hair. Then it occurred to me that he might have had the same response regardless of whether he got the control or not. The placebo effect is real. It is so real that it can cause adverse reactions to drugs as well. Simply the act of taking a drug (whether it is a sugar pill or not) can cause adverse symptoms.
The people participating in the trial would no doubt be told to focus on their bodies and report any unusual symptoms. The act of looking for and believing that there might be an adverse reaction makes one more likely to happen. Much the same as believing that the drug might help you makes your symptoms lessen.
So although Alan’s, admittedly neurotic, character figures that he knows for sure that he has the test drug, he may in fact have given himself the negative effects from believing that the sugar pill he was given would give him adverse side effects. Alan’s character on the show is obsessive about things like this and would be very likely to worry about an adverse reaction.
I go more into the evidence of these things in another blog, but suffice it to say if you tell yourself that you are taking better care of yourself and that you will feel better because of it, you will likely do both. Try giving yourself 15 extra minutes of sleep because you know it will make you feel better. It is an easy way to take better care of yourself. See how you feel in a week. What have you got to lose other than the last 15 minutes of your television show? It’ll go into reruns anyway, don’t worry.