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Placebo: The Belief Effect [Hardcover]

Dylan Evans
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Jan 2003

A lucid and stimulating explanation of how the body’s natural healing mechanisms work – and how they can be triggered in non-chemical ways via the ‘placebo effect’.

Can we really cure ourselves of disease by the power of thought alone? Faith healers and alternative therapists are convinced that we can, but what does science say?

Contrary to public perception, orthodox medical opinion is remarkably confident about the healing powers of the mind. For the past fifty years, doctors have been taught that placebos such as sugar pills and water injections can relieve virtually any kind of medical condition. Yet placebos only work if you believe they work, so the medical confidence in the power of the placebo effect has provided scientific legitimacy to popular claims about the healing powers of the mind.

In this intriguing exploration, Dylan Evans exposes the flaws in the scientific research into the placebo effect and reveals the limits of what can and cannot be cured by thought alone. Drawing on new ideas in immunology and evolutionary biology, Evans proposes a new theory about how placebos work, and asks some searching questions about our concepts of health and disease.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (20 Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007126123
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007126125
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 781,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`The placebo effect is fundamental to medical treatment, and this book brilliantly explores the scientific evidence in an accessible and gripping manner’ Lewis Wolpert

`The placebo effect, of such huge importance in our lives, is an effect which, according to conventional scientific wisdom, ought not to exist. Now, out of left field, springs a modern-day philosopher with challenging – and persuasive – ideas about what the effect amounts to and why’ Nicholas Humphrey

From the Publisher

A fresh and original take on a subject of growing importance: there is now a Society of Integrated Medicine, founded to examine how alternative and medical science can work more effectively together.

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In the closing years of World War II, while the Allies were fighting to liberate Europe from German occupation, morphine was in great demand at the military field hospitals. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take two copies and see me in the morning. 9 Sep 2005
By Dr. P. J. A. Wicks VINE VOICE
Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking have a lot to answer for. Not the first time I've picked up a book with a very friendly and welcoming introduction designed to lure the browser with its lack of jargon and amusing anecdotes. A few chapters in, however, and it all gets rather meaty. Personally, I'm a scientist so I don't mind, but it does strike me that books like this might not be considered "light holiday reading" for some.
The author draws on a wide variety of disciplines to argue his case for an evolutionary design for the placebo response in humans; an alteration in the distribution of different immune cells in order to balance energy expenditure with fighting off infection. Generally scientific journals are not keen on grand unifying theories for peer-reviewed articles so a book like this is a great outlet for the author's imagination. One of the major strengths of this book is that he avoids the temptation to uncritcally cite studies in his favour; he does point out their (often profound) limitations and tries to coax rather than preach his point of view. If nothing else, this is an excellent exercise in persuasion on scientific theory.
Would I recommend it for a patient wanting to find out more about the use of placebos in a clinical setting? Probably not, it's a little too technical in places. As another reviewer commented, great size for the bus or the train and indeed this has accompanied me to work on several occasions. A good read, but know what you're getting into!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scientific look at mental healing 12 Jun 2004
In this investigation of the placebo effect, the author asserts that orthodox medical opinion has for decades been convinced about the healing powers of the mind. This confidence in the power of the placebo effect provides scientific legitimacy to the many claims about mental healing.
By exploring recent research in evolutionary biology and immunology, Evans proposes a new theory on how placebos work while investigating and evaluating current ideas of health and disease. He looks at the history of the placebo effect and investigates the efficacy of placebos by sifting the evidence and providing an opinion on which medical problems can be cured by its use.
In chapter 3, The Acute Phase Response, Evans sets out his theory of the function of a single biological mechanism in the placebo phenomenon; he also states that this is not a proven theory and needs much further research. The next chapter looks at the belief effect, the key mental event that triggers physiological processes that result in healing.
Investigating the physical and psychological aspects of health in evolutionary context, he also considers the potential of placebos to harm. In more metaphysical terms, one may say he looks at positive and negative mental energy, the curse and the blessing, but in scientific terms. Various alternative healing modalities are also discussed, as well as psychotherapy, which the author claims may be the purest placebo.
Ethical questions are considered next in the chapter The Witch Doctor’s Dilemma. The author concludes that the impressive findings of recent scientific research in mind-body medicine have revealed that the healing power of the mind may not be unlimited, but that it is certainly not insignificant.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction 3 Aug 2004
By A Customer
I recently purchased the book and read it almost instantly - the light and easily understandable language made the pages fly by.
The book introduces the Placebo effect to the reader who previously knew nothing about it - and should also be (re)viewed in this perspective. There might not exist enourmous amounts reliable evidence concerning the placebo effect, but I still missed 100 extra pages with more detailed descriptions of the experiments already done as well as a more thourogh presentation of the other placebo theories other than the authors own.
But, in the current size the books is extremely well fitted for a pocket and can be read in busses and trains. For a more thourough understandig of the placebo effect you'd have to consult medical and psychological litterature.
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