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The Nocebo Effect: Fake News Is Contagious

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  • The Nocebo Effect: Fake News Is Contagious

A new study at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, has found that daily exposure to bad news about disease, viruses or pathologies can lead a person to perceive or even be subject to symptoms of those conditions.

The so-called “nocebo” effect, from the Latin noceo (I harm), is the flip-side of the “placebo” effect, where a belief in the efficacy of a particular treatment creates a positive result even in the absence of real medication.

The research, coordinated by Doctor Michael Witthoft, has shown that the number of people susceptible to the nocebo effect is much higher than previously believed. When exposed to negative news about a disease, the side effects of a drug, or the possibility of catching a virus, susceptible individuals are more likely to experience related symptoms without necessarily having contracted the pathology or taken the medicine.

147 volunteers were divided into two groups and shown two different documentaries, one on the risks of being exposed to electromagnetic waves associated with mobile phones and wi-fi technology, the other about internet and mobile phone data security.

Afterwards, the two groups were introduced into an environment which they were falsely led to believe contained electromagnetic waves generated by wi-fi. A high number of those who had seen the first documentary reported experiencing headaches, lack of focus, confusion and dizziness, all symptoms of “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” described in the film they had been shown. Two subjects even abandoned the experiment due to how ill they felt.

Doctor Witthoft concluded that news, even hearsay, can adversely impact wellbeing, transforming perception into lived experience.

The power of belief is strong. Hypochondriacs are advised to listen critically and think positively – doctor’s orders!

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