The Placebo Effect, Language and Story

by Mary K. Clark.

In Counterclockwise ~ Mindful Health and The Power of Possibility,  Ellen J. Langer explores aging and mindfulness.  The book is a fascinating read on the topic of mindfulness, however, she also explores the effect of placebos and language.

The most dramatic example of language acting as placebo can be found in the counterclockwise study.  The study used language to prime the participants, asking the elderly men at the retreat to speak about the past in the present tense.  With language placing the experimental groups’ minds in a healthier place, their bodies followed suit.

We as individuals and communities may prime ourselves and others everyday through the language we use, the stories we tell and the beliefs we have and Langer’s book speaks to this.  While her book does not speak directly to storytelling, it is an interesting read and an excellent resource on mindfulness, aging, health and language.

If you find yourself wanting to learn more about the placebo effect, consider viewing or reading the script from  Treating Depression: Is there a placebo effect?  which previously aired on 60 Minutes, February 19, 2012.

Do antidepressants work? Since the introduction of Prozac in the 1980s, prescriptions for antidepressants have soared 400 percent, with 17 million Americans currently taking some form of the drug. But how much good is the medication itself doing? “The difference between the effect of a placebo and the effect of an antidepressant is minimal for most people,” says Harvard scientist Irving Kirsch. Will Kirsch’s research, and the work of others, change the $11.3 billion antidepressant industry? Lesley Stahl investigates.

And, what about the stories we tell, consciously or unconsciously, that bolster or inhibit the placebo effect?  Do we as storytellers have the power to corral the placebo effect towards our own better health and wellness?

– Mary



©Copyright 5/17/2012 by Mary K. Clark.  All Rights Reserved.

Scroll to Top