The Human Truth Foundation

Psychosomosis - the Placebo and Nocebo Effects
Curing and Causing Disease with the Mind

By Vexen Crabtree 2008


#health #psychology #psychosomosis #self_development

People can exert conscious control over their body and mental states, sometimes with long-term results. I hope that by describing what it is possible to do, people will learn to take more control of their mental and physical health. 'Psychosomosis' is sometimes used to mean medical symptoms that derive from purely (subconscious) psychological factors such as ulcers caused by stress1, but I intend to use it in the wider sense; of the effect of the mind on the body, for good (i.e., meditation preventing cancer) and ill (depression causing increased illness). I advocate the strengthening of willpower in order to prevent psychosomatic illness and also for physical health self-empowerment. I sometimes call the curing of disease through mental willpower (or hypnosis) reverse psychosomosis.

1. Psychological Diseases and the Body

A psychosomatic disease is one in which there are physical symptoms, such as ulcers, caused by a mental process, such as a maladaptive stress response. The following is the definition from the Oxford Companion to the Mind (Gregory 1987), followed by a paragraph on his description of typical psychosomatic diseases:

Book CoverDiseases are designated as psychosomatic if two conditions are fulfilled: if (i) the symptoms are accompanied by demonstratable physiological disturbances of function and (ii) the illness as a whole can be interpreted as a manifestation or function of the patient's personality, conflicts, life history, etc. The first condition distinguishes psychosomatic illness from psychoneurosis, particularly conversion hysteria, in which, by definition, the physical symptoms are not accompanied by demonstratable physiological disturbances. [...]

In Human patients [...] there tends to be a remarkable consistency in the psychosomatic disease, which tends to recur in a stereotyped form. The pattern is peculiar to each patient and more or less fixed. It could be argued that a genetic predisposition as, for example, in the asthma-eczema syndrome, to some extent determines the type of psychosomatic disorder that is likely to recur. [...] From time to time there may be a 'syndrome-shift'. Thus a patient who has had several attacks of atopic dermatitis develops bronchial asthma, or perhaps, later in life, rheumatoid arthritis. A sufferer over many years from migraine develops ulcerative colitis, or a patient who has had a recurrent peptic ulcer develops essential hypertension.

"The Oxford Companion to the Mind" by Richard L. Gregory (1987)2,1

Stan Gooch investigates more extreme cases involving apparently-supernatural phenomenon. His published works explain how in all resolvable cases the causes have been psychological. He describes some typical triggers and typical symptoms:

Some hysterical sufferers break out in a skin rash or boils whenever (say) they have to visit their mothers, or have asthma attacks when they approach the district where they grew up. Here we can recall the woman whose hip bled every time she saw her handicapped son put on his hip support. A mental problem can in fact be converted into virtually any form of physical symptom or illness - and so can be a very serious position indeed.

"The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind" by Stan Gooch (2007) [Book Review]3

Before we continue, we must make sure that we do not confuse psychosomatic illnesses (such as those mentioned above, that frequently have measurable physical symptoms) with other forms of disease that lack such symptoms.

2. The Placebo Effect and the Positive Effects of Mental Attitudes

#alternative_medicine #expectation #health #medicine #new_age #placebo_effect #psychology #quackery #self_development

The_placebo_effect is a positive effect on an illness or medical condition, or on a health-related outcome, that results from suggestion and expectation4. This subtle psychological effect occurs whether or not the underlying treatment actually works and it is strong enough to continually distort medical studies into the effectiveness of health products and can make products seems effective when they are not - it can even do the same for surgical practices.5,6. Such unexpected effects have been studied in greater and greater detail by medical researchers, and it has emerged that placebo effects come in various forms7. The placebo effect is particularly significant in areas such as pain relief and stress, and is therefore best at overcoming aches and pains, headaches, stress-related conditions including recovery from stomach ulcers4 and skin rashes. Most complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) and alternative therapies work through indirect psychological effects, and by the turn of 20th century many New Age related remedies and practices were based on cures by suggestion8. The placebo effect is the reason why these remedies appear to work for so many people, when in reality they don't have any medical effect6,9,10,11,12,13,14,15 and its effects can often support erroneous ideas as to how disease works, and how healing works.

How does it work? (1) There is a link between mood and mental states of mind, and between mood and our immune system, meaning, that our overall impressions of a treatment can affect our outlook, which can boost our immune system16,17,18. (2) When it comes to pain, the prefrontal cortex of the brain can suppress pain messages from the insula19 and other places, meaning that if we prime ourselves to feel less pain (such as when expecting a pill to work) then it really does dull pain. Many experiments have confirmed the ability of people to mentally control pain. (3) Classical conditioning means that many elements of merely receiving a treatment cause our brain to release neurotransmitters and other learned responses in anticipation of feeling better, which improves how we feel5,20. (4) The Hawthorne Effect - people tend to live healthier and perform better simply because they are being studied10,20. (5) Receiving treatment can boost confidence and reduce stress, both of which can improve healing and feelings of wellbeing5,20,21. Finally, (6) It works best when delivered by a confident doctor who also believes the placebo will work22.

For a more comprehensive look at the Placebo Effect, see: The Placebo Effect and the Positive Power of the Mind on Health.

3. The Nocebo Effect

3.1. The Negative Effects of Suggestion and Expectation


Our expectations about life cause certain experiences, both in how we interpret events, to how we consciously put the world together, and affect our very senses such as sight and hearing. Suggestion and expectation are brothers-in-arms, and many psychosomatic diseases result from our expectations about our own reactions based on what we think is real. It is common that a person dislikes a food, and winds them self up about it to such an extent that consuming the food will make them sick. So far so harmless, but similar effects can be serious. A case from 80 years ago recently appeared in the New Scientist:

Late one night in a small Alabama cemetery, Vance Vanders [name changed] had a run-in with the local witch doctor [... who] told him he was about to die and that no one could save him. [...] Vanders took to his bed and began to deteriorate. Some weeks later, emaciated and near death, he was admitted to the local hospital, where doctors were unable to find a cause for his symptoms [...]. Only then did his wife tell one of the doctors, Drayton Doherty, of the hex.

New Scientist23 (2009)24

The next morning, after much thought, the doctor told the family he had found the witch doctor. He performed another ritual, carefully inspecting his instruments, and administered a drug that made the man sick. He discretely produced a green lizard and pretended it had been secreted by the ill man, " 'Look what has come out of you Vance,' he cried. 'The voodoo curse is lifted.' Vanders did a double take [... and] drifted into a deep sleep. When he woke next day he was alert and ravenous. He quickly regained his strength and was discharged a week later"24.

The cause of the man's illness was his expectation and fear of illness caused by the witch doctor. The clever doctor proscribed an equal but opposite psychological effect. For some time, priests and other representatives of the unknown have been able to change a person's expectations about bodily ills and 'heal' them through suggestion. If the source of the information is given credence, then the effects are pronounced.

These effects can include anticipation of the symptoms of illness.

Around 60 per cent of patients undergoing chemotherapy start feeling sick before their treatment. "It can happen days before, or on the journey on the way in," says clinical psychologist Guy Montgomery from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Sometimes the mere thought of treatment or the doctor's voice is enough to make patients feel unwell. This "anticipatory nausea" may be partly due to conditioning - when patients subconsciously link some part of their experience with nausea - and partly due to expectation.[...]

New Scientist23 (2009)24

The Researchers asked a group of students to inhale a sample of normal air, which all participants were told contained "a suspected environmental toxin" linked to headache, nausea, itchy skin and drowsiness. Although they were actually inhaling normal air, many of them developed the suggested symptoms. The effect was greater in women who had seen others suffer from the alleged symptoms (one group of subjects saw a woman inhale the air and develop these symptoms). This can serve to make entire nations ill; if (for example) a detergent manufacturer plays up the risk of bacteria, suggestible people will indeed become ill from it. The solution is to remain skeptical about threats and cures promoted by industry.

A patient who was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer in the 1970s died within the timeframe predicted by doctors. Investigation showed that the doctor's prediction was actually wrong - the man was not due to die from the physical effects of the cancer. The patient's expectation led to his demise. The New Scientist article debates the benefits and risks associated with the extensive "side effects" warning of medicines, nothing that:

Many patients who suffer harmful side effects, for instance, may do so only because they have been told to expect them. [...] The severity of these side effects sometimes matches those associated with real drugs. [... Researchers who ran a study of this found] that if you hear of or observe a possible side effect, you are more likely to develop it yourself.

New Scientist23 (2009)24

Expectation can have real psychosomatic effects on the body. Take Derek, who was depressed and took all of his anti-depressants as a suicide attempt. He was taken to hospital where he collapsed. His blood pressure floored. He had also been taking part in a trial of a new experimental antidepressant. But a doctor arrived who was involved in the trial and revealed that Derek was in the control group, and that the pills were completely inert - they were placebos, containing no drugs. All of Derek's symptoms were created by expectation that if you take too many pills, you might die. Upon learning the truth Derek was tearily relieved, and his symptoms disappeared within 15 minutes. Anthropologist Robert Hahn of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, confirms that "the mere belief that one is susceptible to a heart attack is itself a risk factor. One study found that women who believed they are particularly prone to heart attack are nearly four times as likely to die from coronary conditions as other women with the same risk factors". Derek's belief about his pills, and people's fears about their condition, contributes to their own demise.24

The cure to psychosomatic illness is often correct information delivered by a relevant professional - once the patient learns that there is no poison, disease, or threat, their body stops generating the psychosomatic reaction as their mental state returns to normal. The brain controls all of our immune systems, glands, etc, so that mental states can have pronounced effects on the normal operation of the body. Calm the mind and you can dispel diseases that were caused by the mind.

3.2. Somatoform Disorders and Conversion Hysteria

In somatoform disorders, the individual complains of bodily symptoms that suggest a physical defect or dysfunction - sometimes rather dramatic in nature - but for which no physiological basis can be found.

"Abnormal Psychology" by Davison and Neale (1997)25

In the The Oxford Companion to the Mind2's definition of psychosomosis, quoted to the right, it mentions "conversion hysteria". This is what some psychologists call "somatoform disorders", where patients complain of physical symptoms, but no physiological problems can be found. In psychosomatic disease, the symptoms include physical components (often visible), whereas in somatoform disorders the physical symptoms are missing. For example, hypochondria, anorexia nervosa and mass hysteria are somatoform disorders, but, asthma attacks brought on by emotional disturbances are psychosomatic (accounting for 37% of cases of asthma)26.

An old case can be seen to sit in a gray area, where it is hard to distinguish between forms of hallucination, and, forms of somatoform disorders:

A poor lunatic fancied his body increased to such a size, that he dared not attempt to pass through the door of his room. He declared he saw himself that his body was far too large to make it at all possible to go through such an opening. The physician attending him believed that nothing could more effectually cure this error of the imagination, than to show that the thing dreaded could be actually and easily accomplished. He caused the patient to be thrust forcibly through it. The poor fellow, struck with abject horror at the expectant idea, to his mind, of his certain fate, shrieked that he was in agony, that he was being crushed to death, and almost at once expired!

"The Supernatural?" by Lionel A. Weatherley (1891)27

It would be interesting to note what neurologists such as Oliver Sachs make of such cases.

3.3. Mass Hysterias Reflect Societal Beliefs

The nocebo effect (the negative effects of suggestion and expectation) are the opposite of the placebo effect (the positive side of such factors). The former appears when people expect to be ill, and the latter occurs when people expect to get better such as when given medication.

The nocebo effect can even be catching. Cases where symptoms without an identifiable cause spread through groups of people have been around for centuries, a phenomenon known as mass psychogenic illness.

New Scientist23 (2009)24

Psychosomosis, as we have seen, is related to hysteria; which is the paranoid belief that one suffers symptoms when in reality there are none. It should be easy to see that hysterical symptoms result from mental processes. Mass hysteria is especially common amongst schoolchildren. For example, in a school in Shelkovsk, Chechnya "symptoms included convulsions, nausea and breathing difficulties. The illness spread to neighbouring schools. Local doctors suspected mass poisoning, but when a delegation of medics arrived from Moscow, they attributed it to mass hysteria"28. Even when there is no actual virus, poison, or physical cause, children can "pass on" symptoms. Symptoms are real and fall in line with what the patients expect to suffer from. "Mass hysteria, or medically unexplained epidemic illness, has been documented since medieval times. Simon Wessely, a director of the King's Centre for Military Health Research at King's College London, says such outbreaks tend to reflect a society's beliefs". Importantly, Dr Wessely states that the most effective way to stop the epidemic and stop the symptoms is to explain that rumour and suggestion are causing them. [...] Once this has happened, "symptoms vanish within days"28.

What we see here is that, like this page recommends, explaining to people that mental outlook has an effect on physical health can allow people to exercise more control against illness. Schoolchildren's symptoms disappear when it is explained that no poison was found; and, hysterical symptoms disappear when the true causes are empathetically explained by a trusted professional. (Beware that just telling people that the symptoms are their own 'fault' is wrong and does not make things better).

Another example that blurs the boundary between psychosomosis and hysteria is that many aspects of alcoholic drunken behaviour is cultural and caused by social upbringing rather than biology, meaning that the apparent symptoms are brainal rather than purely somatic.

3.4. The Risk of Mobile Phones: A Psychological Quagmire for Some

Although there is widespread, there is no health risk from mobile phone radiation29. In experiments investigators have found that some people are sensitive to the idea of radiation from mobile phones use. When scientists scan their brains, they find that pain receptors flare up when the patients are told they are being subjected to the same electromagnetic fields that mobile phones use. Most people, however, are not affected. These electro-sensitives were, however, not actually subjected to any mobile phone radiation (or any other kind). As they lay there, the investigators told the subjects that they were turning on the mobile phone radiation. The patients who thought they were sensitive to it registered pain responses. Those who didn't think they were affected by it felt no pain. This episode was reported in The Economist (2008)30. No subjects were exposed to anything at all, yet, some had psychologically programmed themselves into pain responses through self-identifying as people who were sensitive to mobile phones. This is a mixture between hysteria and psychosomosis.

If people can cause themselves to be sensitive to certain stimuli even when the stimuli isn't real and doesn't really present any risk at all, it can makes things awkward for society as a whole. Protests against mobile phones and calls for regulation, further investigation and tests have cost money, but the cause of the problem is personal paranoia, not radiation. This paranoia translates, as it does in psychosomatics, into measurable symptoms. Quack remedies, supported by opportunistic salespeople, offer products that rely solely on the placebo effect to 'cure' those affected by such psychosomatic illnesses:

A growing industry of fraud artists is taking advantage of the fact that many of the supposed symptoms of EMF appear to be psychosomatic. They are offering a broad variety of quack remedies that will absorb 'harmful' EMF or otherwise shield the user. These products range from pendants worn around the neck to a patented $727.50 'i-H2O activator' that 'structures all the water you use.'

Skeptical Inquirer (2009)29

This story should be told wide and far because it goes to show what is possible: I bet that self-sensitising in this way is the cause of many minor complaints. We have seen that such psychological effects can go as far to cause ulcers, skin rashes, etc, but it makes sense that lower down on the scale is a whole portion of society afflicted by lesser nuisances that they have convinced themselves into. Education that such psychological clumsiness is possible has helped cure cases of mass hysteria, and general education on psychosomosis would likely help large numbers of people.

4. Meditation

Some people learn to control certain bodily functions through meditation. Heart rate and oxygen consumption can be reduced dramatically, and, those who practice transcendental meditation over the long term can expect health benefits such as less heart disease and even, according to one study, less likelihood of developing cancer.

Meditation has been defined as a clearing or emptying of the mind through a narrowly focused thought process; the special word or phrase (the mantra used in Transcendental Meditation is an example of this. [...] Meditation, originally practised in India and other Eastern countries, became popular in the West in the late 1960s, as part of the 'flower power' phenomenon [...]. Since then, meditation has been studied by psychologists [...] There are many reported cases of yogis who manage to control their autonomic functions quite voluntarily through meditation [...]. A famous example is Ramanand Yogi, a 46-year-old Hindu who, in 1970, through the practice of yoga ('union') [...] used just over one-half of the calculated minimum amount of oxygen needed to keep him alive (and during one hour, he was averaging just one-quarter).

"Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour" by Richard Gross (1996)31

As our psychological states impact our immune system, scientists have studied the effects of forms of meditation on long-term health. Dr Schneider, who heads the centre of natural medicine and prevention at the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA, published results of one such long-term study:

A new study shows that transcendental meditation, a relaxation technique developed by the Indian guru [Maharishi] and made famous when [The Beatles] dabbled with it in the late 60s, can reduce death rates by nearly a quarter. Robert Schneider, who led the research, said: "The study found that in older people with mild high blood pressure, those practising transcendental meditation had a 23% lower risk of death from all causes". The results appear in the American Journal of Cardiology. "Some practised transcendental meditation, while others tried different techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation. The transcendental meditation group had 30% fewer deaths from heart disease and 49% fewer from cancer. [...] Previous research has found that transcendental meditation can lower stress hormone levels and blood pressure."

David Adam, The Guardian (2005)32

Zamora's tolerance for pain was tested by Dr Joshua Prager of the UCLA School of Medicine. According to Prager, Zamora's ability to withstand pain was 'off the charts,' most likely due to meditation and self-hypnosis.

Skeptical Inquirer (2008)33

The text on psychoimmunology above has already explored other studies designed to examine how our mental states can affect our immune system. Meditation can influence our physical bodies in areas where symptoms are typically known to be susceptible to psychosomatic and placebo effects. One such area is the experience of pain.

5. Hypnosis

Touching the skin with a pencil may cause blisters if the participant has been told it is red hot.

"Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour" by Richard Gross (1996)34,35

Under hypnosis, people can hallucinate incredibly real (-seeming) events in their minds, making themselves think they are flying, that they are talking to people who are not really there, etc. Also, latent talents and confidence can be brought out: when there are no social consequences the self is more capable of a broader range of actions.

Suggestible subjects can develop serious and real physical symptoms and injuries on command, some of them quite spectacular and unbelievable, such as blisters, seizures, open wounds and stigmata. Cures for existing diseases can be brought about through the same method, even for diseases, as we shall see below, that do not otherwise respond to medical treatment.

In a seemingly impossible and complex case of reverse psychosomosis, a boy who was born with a progressive skin disease was healed through suggestion whilst hypnotized. Mental processes of the brain, in their complex interactions with the body, are responsible for the biochemical changes that would have been required to cure the disease. Some primitive part of the brain must have been responsible, since birth, for causing the disease and the suggestion for it to stop allowed a normal epidermis to grow.

Probably the most daunting and famous case of hypnosis on record concerns a boy aged sixteen who suffered from a congenital, progressive, structured disease of the skin, present from birth. The condition, ichthyosiform erythrodermia complex, is resistant to all forms of treatment. In it, a thick, black, horny layer covers most or all of the body, and this layer itself is covered with further warty excrescences. The skin, if such we can call it, is as hard as a fingernail. Any bending or flexing of any part of the body causes painful cracks, which ooze bloodstained serum. The condition also gives rise to an objectionable smell that others find intolerable.

On 10 February 1951, in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the boy concerned was hypnotized and told that his left arm would clear of the disease. Five days later the horny layer softened, broke and fell off, to reveal normal new skin beneath. In later hypnotic sessions the remainder of the body was successfully treated. The whole case was observed throughout by specialists and reported in full in the British Medical Journal36.

"The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind" by Stan Gooch (2007) [Book Review]37,38

A physician who appeared in a British television documentary series on hypnosis narrated the following story. He was treating a boy who was suffering from the so-called 'total allergy syndrome'. These individuals have been described as being 'allergic to the twentieth century'. They have to be cared for in a sterilized, sealed environment, and supplied with filtered air and special foods. The doctor was attempting to increase the boy's resistance by the use of hypnosis. At one point he began telling the boy that he (the boy) was having a picnic on a mountainside, but as the doctor described the imaginary scene, the youngster began to go into spasm. [...] The horrified physician realized that his patient was undergoing terminal spasm [and] summoned a helicopter, which swooped down and carried the boy up into the pure stratosphere above the earth. As the doctor quickly described these imaginary events, the boy's spasm subsided and he began breathing again.

"The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind" by Stan Gooch (2007) [Book Review]37,38

Hypnosis changes the relationship between our conscious and subconscious selves, and therefore allows different factors to affect our nervous system than when in a normal mental state. This allows the possibility of changing psychosomatic diseases through suggestion, where (of course) those diseases are within biochemical reach of the body's biochemistry. In other words, it can be effective if the cure can result from changing the levels of produced biochemicals under the nervous system's control.

6. Stigmata

Hypnotized and entranced subjects can develop spontaneous (but not random) wounds, such as patients who are touched with a (room temperature) pen that they are told is red hot, and develop real blisters as a result of the imagined heat. Wounds like these are frequently associated with powerful memories; one subject would develop weals and blisters around his wrists similar to wounds he received 10 years earlier when tied up. A 37 year old female patient described her father's childhood beatings, and while doing so "bleeding whip marks appeared on her legs, buttocks, shoulders and hands. These were witnessed, photographed and reported by physicians, and had moreover to be dressed and treated [...]. Two further cases of this same phenomenon are also reported by Dr Moody"39.

Stigmata is where the wounds of Jesus Christ spontaneously appear on the hands and feet. Similar processes must be at work in stigmata as during the injuries that can manifest under hypnotism and trance. It may be that some still believe that an actual, real, supernatural Christ causes these (they normally afflict saints and devout Christians) but there is clearly room for these wounds to be entirely psychosomatic and self-generated. Despite this, some Christians and paranormalists still claim that stigmata are the result of spiritual contact with Christ.

However, the argument for the wounds of the stigmatic (the spear wound in the side, the marks of the thorns on the head, the nail marks in feet and hands, and so on) having been produced by contact with the actual spirit of Christ collapses completely on examination. For example, the stigmatics regularly produced (and produce to this day) nail wounds in the palms of their hands - as shown in many paintings and carvings of the crucified Christ - whereas in fact the real historical Christ, like all crucified victims of those days, was nailed to the cross through the wrists. More telling still is the finding that the particular marks (size, shape, position) on some stigmatics are identical with those on the particular crucifix or painting before which the stigmatic habitually worships. Here we seem to identify the exact source of inspiration which the unconscious mind has employed.

"The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind" by Stan Gooch (2007) [Book Review]40

When in 1894 Dr Imbert-Gourbeyre produced his scholarly but gullible book La Stigmatisation, he discovered 321 stigmatics since the time of St Francis of Assisi produced the first stigmata. Of these, only 41 were men and 280 were women. [...] Even ardent champions of stigmatics, like Dr Imbert-Goubeyre or Fr Thurston SJ do not deny that many stigmatics have had a history of emotional disturbance before they received the stigmata. Just as the anorexic has to have a certain type of personality, the stigmatic has to be deeply suggestible, as was the contemporary stigmatic, Cloretta Robertson, who had the stigmata [since the age of 10] until recently when she was 'cured' by hypnosis.

"The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West" by Karen Armstrong (1986)41

7. Philosophical Issues

The separation of diseases into 'mental' and 'physical' is essentially arbitrary as psychological factors have a basis in neurology. Therefore psychological and psychosomatic disorders are physical, biological, and in this reductionist sense it makes no sense to call any phenomenon 'mental' or psyche-logical. To call something 'psychosomatic' when 'somatic' means bodily, and 'psyche' means psychological, may seem to be contradictory. However, the words used to describe the mind have a use because they determine the physical location of the causes of illness (the brain and the nervous system). This aids understanding, for to call all disease somatic would be to lose this major practical classification.

Free will and Causation: Is it true to say that, with psychosomatic disorders, the mind exercises 'free will' in 'choosing' illness? I think not. Although the cause of psychosomatic illness is psychological, the cause of the psychosomatic illness is itself the behaviour of the neurones of the brain and therefore psychosomosis is ultimately regulated by the laws of chemistry and physics, just like other biological and conscious systems. As a result, we find that the existence of psychosomosis (whether in curing or in causing illness) merely proves that the mind, the brain and the body all have a single, physical nature, and not two separate natures (body and soul).

8. The Limits of Psychosomosis

Book CoverOther investigators argue that while mental states might exert some influence on the initiation of disease, they are likely to be powerless to affect advanced organic pathology.

"How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life" by Thomas Gilovich (1991)42

Despite the studies above that detail the pervasive and powerful effects that psychology can have on disease, we must heed certain common-sense warnings. Studies that have shown psychosomatic illness to be hindered by the mind have only been consistent in a few types of disease, and the wise philosopher Thomas Gilovich warns us that the most extreme predictions of any theory have tended to be untrue42. For example in a compendium of skeptical essays, Paul R. Grob lectures that many illnesses that are said to be due to stress actually have other causes - although in the case of asthma he admits that stressful events cause attacks43. Some powerful pain relief drugs such as morphine have effects which far outstrip the possibilities of the placebo effect44. So although there are sometimes quite extreme bodily effects resulting from the mind's neurology, the reality is often more subdued than the extremes of theoretical possibility. Willpower cannot perform magic, and can only affect disease where such disease is affected by our nervous system's control of our body.

9. Conclusion: Reverse Psychosomosis - Bodily Health Through Mental Effort

There seems to be no limits to the seriousness of possible physical problems resulting from subconscious mental dysphoria; but there are many benefits also from certain mental exercises and from holding a positive mental attitude. Good reactions to stress are an indicator of long-term health, both physical and mental. Willpower and determination sit alongside hopeful thinking as elements of a reverse psychosomosis mechanism; helping protect the body against disease. Meditation, self-reflection and having a 'fighting spirit' against health problems all contribute to actual physical health.

It is a well known fact that many people die simply because they give up and just don't care anymore. This is understandable if the person is very ill, with no apparent chance for recovery. But this often is not the case. Man has become lazy. He has learned to take the easy way out.

"The Satanic Bible"
Anton LaVey (1969)45

Summarizing the techniques and conclusions drawn on this page, it follows that various good practices can increase the health of individuals and of entire nations.

Current edition: 2008 Sep 04
Last Modified: 2013 Jul 22
Originally published 2006 Oct 31
Parent page: The Human Truth Foundation

All #tags used on this page - click for more:

#alternative_medicine #expectation #health #medicine #new_age #placebo_effect #psychology #psychosomosis #quackery #self_development #USA

Social Media

References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See for some commentary on this source. A newspaper.

Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Published by Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, NY, USA. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly.

The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.

New Scientist magazine. Published by Reed Business Information Ltd, London, UK. UK based weekly science news paper (not subject to scientific peer-review though).

Armstrong, Karen
(1986) The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West. Subtitled: "Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West". Published by Elm Tree Books/Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London, UK. A hardback book.

Carroll, Robert Todd. (1945-2016). Taught philosophy at Sacramento City College from 1977 until retirement in 2007. Created The Skeptic's Dictionary in 1994.
(2011) Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by the James Randi Educational Foundation. An e-book.

Davison & Neale
(1997) Abnormal Psychology. 7th edition. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Amazon link points to a newer edition than the one I've used here. A hardback book.

Gardner, Martin. Died 2010 May 22 aged 95.
(1957) Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science. Originally published 1952 by G. P. Putnam's Sons as "In the Name of Science". Current version published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, USA. A paperback book.

Gilovich, Thomas
(1991) How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. 1993 edition. Published by The Free Press, NY, USA. A paperback book.

Goddard, Henry H. Dr
(1899) article "The Effects of Mind on Body as Evidenced by Faith Cures" published in The American Journal of Psychology (1899 Apr) vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 431-502. In James (1902)1 p112.

Goldacre, Ben. MD.
(2008) Bad Science. Published by Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, London, UK.

Gooch, Stan
(2007) The Origins of Psychic Phenomena: Poltergeists, Incubi, Succubi, and the Unconscious Mind. Originally published 1984 as "Creatures from Inner Space". Current version published by Rider & Company, London, UK. My references are to the original publication. The edition linked to here is published by Inner Traditions 2007; information retrieved from Amazon UK on 2007 Dec 14. A hardback book. Book Review.

Gregory, Richard L.
(1987) The Oxford Companion to the Mind. 1987 reprint. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Gross, Richard
(1996) Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. 3rd edition. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, London UK. A paperback book.

James, William. (1842-1910)
(1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience. Subtitled: "A Study in Human Nature". 5th (1971 fifth edition) edition. Originally published 1960. From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902. Quotes also obtained from Amazon digital Kindle 2015 Xist Publishing edition. A paperback book. Book Review.

LaVey, Anton. (1930-1997) Founder of the Church of Satan.
(1969) The Satanic Bible. Published by Avon Books Inc, New York, USA. Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966. A paperback book.

Lehrer, Jonah
(2009) The Decisive Moment: How the Brain Makes Up Its Mind. Published by Canongate Books, Edinburgh. A hardback book.

McConnel, James V.
(1986) Understanding Human Behavior. 5th edition. Originally published 1974. Current version published by CBS College Publishing, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, USA. A hardback book.

Myers, David
(1999) Social Psychology. 6th ('international') edition. Originally published 1983. Current version published by McGraw Hill. A paperback book.

Novella, Steven Dr
(2010) "The Poor, Misunderstood Placebo". Published in Skeptical Inquirer (2010 Nov/Dec) p33-34. Novella is assistant professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine and President of the New England Skeptical Society.

Park, Robert L.
(2008) Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA. An e-book.

Toates, Romero & Datta
(2004) From Cells to Consciousness. Published by The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. A neurology textbook by Frederick Toates, Ignacio Romero and Saroj Datta. A paperback book.

Weatherley, Lionel A.
(1891) The Supernatural?. Published by J. W. Arrowsmith, Bristol, UK. This is a hard to find book. Bath Library has a copy, accessed 2012 Dec 14. A hardback book.


  1. Gregory, R. (1987). Entry on Psychosomatic Disease: A Medical View. Another entry exists for psychosomosis.^^^
  2. Gregory (1987) .^^
  3. Gooch (2007). P165.^
  4. NHS article The placebo effect and complementary and alternative medicine" (not dated, but "last reviewed" on 2016 Feb 03). Accessed 2016 Apr 16.^
  5. Goldacre (2008). Chapter 5 "The Placebo Effect".^
  6. Toates, Romero & Datta (2004). P6-7,38-39.^
  7. Goldacre (2008). Chapter 4 "Homeopathy" digital location 594.^
  8. Goddard (1899)^
  9. "Pseudoscience and Health: The World of Alternatives (to Truth)" by Vexen Crabtree (2014)^
  10. Goldacre (2008). Chapter 8 "Pill Solves Complex Social Problem" digital location 1994-2009.^
  11. Carroll (2011). P154,251.^
  12. Gardner (1957). P187.^
  13. The Economist (2012 Apr 14). Article "Medicine and its Rivals".^
  14. Novella (2010)^
  15. James (1902). P108. footnote.^
  16. Gross (1996). P145.^^
  17. Davison & Neale (1997). P202.^^
  18. Scientific American Mind (2009 Sep/Oct). Article "Inflammation Brings on the Blues" p16. In article "Inflammation Brings on the Blues" p16.^
  19. Lehrer (2009). P143.^
  20. Novella (2010).^
  21. Myers (1999). P583.^^
  22. Park (2008). Digital location 906-908.^
  23. New Scientist .^^^
  24. New Scientist23 (2009 May 16) p30-32. Added to this page on 2009 Jun 28.^^
  25. Davison & Neale (1997). P155.^
  26. Davison & Neale (1997). P198.^
  27. Weatherley (1891). P256. Added to this page on 2013 Jul 22.^
  28. The Economist (2006 May 20) .^^
  29. Skeptical Inquirer (2009 Sep/Oct) p36-37.^
  30. The Economist (2008 Sep 27) article "Electrosensitivity: Mind your phone" p108. An excerpt follows: "[During] sham-phone exposure, only the electrosensitives described any sensations - which ranged from prickling to pain. Moreover, they showed neural activity to match. Some of the same bits of their brains lit up as when they were exposed to high temperatures. This suggests that electrosensitivity, rather than being a response to electromagnetic stimulus, as akin to well-known psychosomatic disorders such as some sorts of tinnitus and chronic pain. A psychosomatic disorder is one in which the symptoms are real, but are induced by cognitive functions rather than by direct external stimuli".^
  31. Gross (1996). P89-90.^
  32. The Guardian (2005 May 02) article "Meditation 'leads to longer life'".^
  33. Skeptical Inquirer. Skeptical Inquirer (2008 Nov/Dec Vol. 32 Issue 6) "Secrets of Spectacularly Skewered Skin". Added to this page on 2012 Aug 06.^
  34. Gross (1996) .^
  35. Gross (1996) p88.^
  36. A. A. Mason, 'A Case of Congenital Ichthyosiform Erythrodermia Treated by Hypnosis', British Medical Journal, vol. 2, 1952. Via Gooch (1984) p98-99..^
  37. Gooch (2007) .^
  38. Gooch, (1984) p98-99.^
  39. R. L. Moody, 'Bodily Changes During Abreaction', Lancet, vol. 251, no. 2, 1946; and vol. 254, no. 2 1948. Via Gooch (1984) p109.^
  40. Gooch (2007). P110.^
  41. Armstrong (1986). Chapter "Why Be a Martyr" p199-200.^
  42. Gilovich (1991). P140.^
  43. Paul R. Grob "Stress and Illness - A Modern Disease?" in "How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life" by Thomas Gilovich (1991)48.^
  44. Toates (2004) in Toates, Romero & Datta (2004) p6-7, 38-39. Added to this page on 2010 Mar 03.^
  45. LaVey (1969). Book of Lucifer 10, para3.^
  46. Davison & Neale (1997). P200.^
  47. McConnel (1986). P535-536.^
  48. Gilovich (1991) .^

©2018 Vexen Crabtree all rights reserved.
This site uses the HTF Disclaimer (as linked here)