The Nocebo

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If you put me on the defense I react very differently than when I am relaxed. Take the simplest blind test. "Can you tell the difference between A or B?" And when I try I am defensive because I am being challenged to perform. Those watching are judging me and my ability to discern differences and my reaction to the pressure is a guarded one. I am fearful of making a fool of myself, or feeling inadequate and thus, defensive. The defensive posture fundamentally changes my brain and sensory abilities. Think of times when you've been prepped: you're gonna hate this, this is the best chocolate I have ever tasted, wait till your father comes home and sees this! The emotional setup is powerful and many of us are vulnerable to its effects. In yesterday's post I spoke of a placebo and its power. My friend Seth Godin expanded on that by connecting me with this paper. In it he speaks of the power of the placebo and its opposite, the nocebo, and here's how that relates to double blind listening tests. The minute a listener is challenged to hear differences in a stereo system using the double blind method, his defenses are put on high alert - fundamentally changing his abilities to hear differences, thus negating the results. This explains one of the first objections I have to double blind testing as the final arbiter in the great debate of what we do and don't hear. There are many more. The article by Seth is fascinating on many levels. I encourage you to read and absorb its many meanings so we are all on the same page tomorrow.
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Paul McGowan

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