Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Great Expectations = Great Results

Most of us are familiar in broad terms with the placebo effect, a case of mind- over-matter whereby pills or treatments with no medicinal value produce results that are experienced by the patient as real.

Is it the pill, or the person? Medicine...or mind?

A recent New Scientist article, “The power of belief,” (23 Aug 2008) described some recent research on the placebo effect that I believe effectively points up the power of the mind to produce results based on the power of expectation.

The article outlines the role that expectation and the mind play in the physiological processes that have traditionally been the exclusive domain of evidence-based (and fairly mechanistic models of) medical and pharmacological practice.

“The very act of administering a drug activates a complex cascade of biochemical events in the patient’s brain,” states the article, whereby a drug interacts with “expectation-activated molecules.”

In one case a painkiller was administered without the patients’ knowledge and actually had no effect – the speculation being that the administration of the drug actually requires a reaction whereby the mind stimulates the production of the body’s own natural painkilling endorphins.

Even with drugs that do have direct effects independently of patients’ expectations, the strength of these effects can be similarly influenced by expectations. For example, if you do not tell people they are getting an injection of morphine, you need to inject at least 12 mg to get a painkilling effect, compared to a much lower dose if you tell them what they are getting.

And in an experiment based on reported experiences of pain sensations along a spectrum from mild to severe, the subject had been conditioned to expect that all shocks administered in conjunction with a flash of green light would be mild while shocks with a red light would be severe.

At the end of the experiment, he reported all shocks – even those at the severe end of the spectrum, to be mild because they were accompanied by the green light. His expectation had been set by the positive suggestion and in the end produced results that he experienced as real. Bear in mind: this effect took place even though the subject knew that the experiment concerned the placebo effect.

In a scenario closer to home, my brother Trent in Canada told me today that he had tried something new with his son. Before his son’s recent hockey tournament, Trent told his son that he believed in him, that he knew he would do a great job and would play his absolute best, and that no matter what the outcome, he was proud of him for being in the tournament.

His son Mitch went on to play his best games ever during a series in which his team was undefeated. A coach remarked that Mitch should have had the tournament puck and been MVP for the calibre of play he exhibited – like nothing he’d ever seen Mitch do before.

Contrast this with the dads you see screaming at their kids from the side of the football pitch, telling them everything they’re doing wrong and how they should change. I can tell you which dad most kids would rather have at their games – and I think most of us would feel the same.

The lesson seems clear: focusing on what people do well and providing an expectation of a positive outcome engages people’s brains and minds in the task at hand, helping them tap into their full potential to produce great results.


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