I had my first experience with placebos when I was very young. This is one of my very first memories. Whenever I had a minor injury as a child, my mother would place a Haribo® Gummy Bear on the boo-boo, the site of pain. She would tell me that “this gummy bear helps against pain” and that I was allowed to eat the gummy bear when the pain was gone. She told me that green gummy bears were especially powerful. Tears dried on the spot. I experienced immediate pain relief. Today I am still surprised about how pain can turn into just a fading memory, and how attention shifts to some other attractor. My placebo-experience catalyzed a shift from pain and anxiety to relief and restored well-being. It all took place in a caring environment that made it absolutely safe to get better. I still remember and can recall that feeling of absolute trust. I like this story. It is a warm childhood memory. I rely on it often. When I saw the Gummy Bear Effect later with my own children it became curious to find out if such a healing experience could be made available to all of us.
The Gummy Bear Effect is a story that also raises questions that are at the heart of placebo research. Here is one:
What promotes self-healing?
When we are in a state of sickness, does the experience of a caring, assuring environment signal our mind and body permission to switch-off stress and to turn-on symptom-relief and self-healing? Is there an On/Off switch to our immune system?
I’ll explore these questions, and also offer practical ideas, tools and designs that draw on what we can learn from family traditions, good patient-doctor relationships, and clinical studies. I’ll describe safe ways to create and benefit from placebo effects.
As I write this I have people in mind like myself who grew up in a caring environment and then transitioned into a world illuminated by the bright light of powerful medical brands.
Let’s explore how we can use pure placebos to harvest brand power in a safe and honest way.