Using the Placebo Effect for Successful Outcomes

placebo.jpgIn the largest experiment of its kind to date, 1162 patients aged 18 to 86 years (mean ± SD age, 50 ± 15 years) with a history of chronic low back pain for a mean of 8 years were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture, sham acupuncture, or conventional therapy (a combination of drugs, physical therapy, and exercise) for their chronic back pain. Patients underwent ten 30-minute sessions, generally 2 sessions per week.

After six months, patients answered questions from the Von Korff Chronic Pain Grade Scale questionnaire and the back-specific portions of the Hanover Functional Ability Questionnaire to determine their chronic level of pain after treatment.

In the real acupuncture group, 47 percent of patients improved (defined as 33% improvement or better on the Von Korff Scale or 12% better on the Hanover Questionnaire). In the sham acupuncture group, 44 percent improved. In the conventional care group, 27 percent got relief.

Study Conclusion: Low back pain improved after acupuncture treatment for at least 6 months. Effectiveness of acupuncture, either real or sham, was almost twice that of conventional therapy.

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Power in Repurposing

Repurposed plastic water bottles.

Like these repurposed plastic water bottles, maybe you can repurpose old psychological patterns.

Evolution did not equip us to deal directly with modern experiences such as the Internet, global communications, and rapid transit. It did equip us to adapt to these influences – and do it quickly. Fortunately, we don’t have to grow new brain cells to address novel experiences like Facebook. We can simply repurpose old circuitry. That’s the power of our amazingly plastic brains.

“Understanding what is in our cognitive toolbox is a first step to understanding how we can most effectively use these tools to address modern problems that our brains did not evolve to solve.” (Wheatley)

Wheatley and Parkinson describe three kinds of repurposing: Continue reading

Just Smile

Smile to improve your brain as you age.

Smile to improve your brain as you age.

Good news! You don’t have to grow old with age. There are ways to keep that sharp mental edge sharp. According to Ohio State University researchers, smiling is a simple and effective way to keep your brain young. The idea is that exercising your smile muscles tends to elevate mood; and elevated mood enhances brain functions. That’s cool.

“So these [study] results are good news. There are ways for older adults to overcome some of the cognitive declines that come with aging. Given the current concern about cognitive declines in the aged, our findings are important for showing how simple methods to improve mood can help improve cognitive functioning and decision performance in older adults, just like they do in younger people.” (Ellen Peters, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University)

I’m encouraged. Perhaps I’ll smile a bit more – and more often.

n.p. (2013, February 1). “Boosting Brain Power In Older Adults By Inducing A Positive Mood.”Medical News Today. Retrieved from

The study was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Ellen Peters. Written by Jeff Grabmeier. Ohio State University

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Brain Gift for Geeks

Web search activity may help stimulate and possibly improve brain function.

Web search activity may help stimulate and possibly improve brain function.

UCLA scientists have found that for computer-savvy middle-aged and older adults (known as “old geeks”), searching the Internet triggers key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. The findings demonstrate that Web search activity may help stimulate and possibly improve brain function.

Hot dog! This is REALLY good news for me and many older “geeks” just like me…

“The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults,” said principal investigator Dr. Gary Small, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA who holds UCLA’s Parlow-Solomon Chair on Aging. “Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function.”

I sure do hope so! My aging brain needs all the help it can get.

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It’s Normal to Be Different

We are all extraordinary, all strange -- freaks, every last one of us.

We are all extraordinary, all strange — freaks, every last one of us.

“We should keep in mind the world is messy, and we’re all different to varying degrees. Nature always takes the exception to the rule, undermines the archetype, and reminds us that our ideas about what is natural and what we should do to correct nature’s ‘imperfections’ are as sound as a sandcastle battered by a rising tide,”  writes University of Iowa psychologist Mark Blumberg in his latest book, Freaks of Nature. “We are all extraordinary, all strange — freaks, every last one of us. Some of us just happen to be more notable, with a particularly interesting story to tell.”

“To me, the nature-nurture debate is a dead end,” said Blumberg. “Asking whether something is more nature or more nurture is like asking whether a hurricane is more wind or rain. It’s both — always both.”

In nature, biological systems operate within the context of their environment. According to evolutionary theory, systems either adapt to their environment or die off. Freaks of nature sometimes become the dominant species because they can adapt better than those we consider “normal” or not freaks.

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