Hey so here’s my TED talk, in which I discuss the placebo effect and if it’s possible to harness it.




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  1. I really enjoyed watching your talk, Phia! It had a great blend of scientific knowledge and facts – the numbers solidified your statements. The first story about the patients being told that they were essentially being given placebos and still reporting similar results to not being told was very eye-opening, and was able to engage me right away into your talk. Also, at the finish, your call to action was well-placed, and was very inspiring. The delivery and elocution of your talk was amazing (as usual). You spoke clearly when you needed to (ex. explaining a scientific term), but were also passionate.

    I just had a few questions about your topic – around when was the placebo effect discovered, and when was it popularized? Also (this is a more advanced questions), is there a specific reason for why humans are tricked so easily by the placebo effect?


  2. Really informative TED talk that was backed up by a lot of research and studies, as well as incorporating it into our everyday lives. Relating to my own topic, I was wondering in the study on the housekeepers by telling them that their work was physically demanding, whether this type of thing is all that common, as it is more probable that you or the article you took it from, published this data to back up claims, as it was the only data that “survived”, and the findings were maybe one in a thousand odds of getting the results they did. This seems like a lot of things I’ve been finding in articles, where they only take data that back up their own claims. I was also wondering, what are the odds that a doctor has prescribed me a placebo in the past. Are there any numbers on how often/what types of things they would prescribe placebos on?

    • Hi Nathan,

      As the hotel maid study is one of the only few of its kind, I cannot tell you whether the results were rare or not. But in regards to your question about the odds that you have been prescribed a placebo in the past is very high. (I did not include this in my talk or it would have been too long.) 97% of 783 doctors who were surveyed in a study admitted to giving patients a placebo in their practice, and 77% said they did a least once a week, but these refer to the use of “impure” placebos. Pure placebos are things like sugar pills or saline injections that have zero effect on the taker. Impure placebos are antidotes that doctors prescribe simply to reassure patients, but the medicine is not likely to cure them. A personal example I have is that when I had an ear infection, I saw two doctors. One was very impatient and prescribed me ear drops quickly and told me to come back another time if it was still bothering me. I took the drops, and felt “better”. The other doctor told me that the ear drops likely would do nothing and told me to use olive oil instead, and to come back so she could remove a wax buildup in my ear. (TMI? Maybe. You can probably handle this.) I think I was prescribed a placebo by the first doctor.
      I hope this answers your question!

  3. Your TED Talk was really thought-provoking, Phia! It’s really nice how you provided a lot of studies from Harvard and it made me become more curious of your topic. I have two quick questions. How can placebos be so effective by just a person’s expectations; is it even a disease in the first place? Can placebos also cure? Overall, your presentation was amazing! It was really neat how you filmed parts of the video and then edited everything together instead of recording the entire video at once.

    • Hey Lauryn,
      Thanks for commenting! No one is sure why placebos are so effective. Some people believe that disease in only in the mind, therefore the use of a placebo and attention and care towards a patient will improve them. Perhaps placebos can cure, but it’s more likely that it’s a mix of belief and the good treatment a patient gets from their doctor or families after receiving a placebo. Placebos can be a contributing factor to curing some illnesses, but not all. A placebo cannot cure gaping wounds or tumors or a severed limb, for example. Placebos are shown to work best on symptom-based problems, like depression.

  4. Amazing Ted Talk Phia. You were very confident throughout your entire talk and your message came across very strongly. Your topic is very interesting, and really shows the power of human will. The idea of a placebo seems confusing to many people, but your talk was structured in a way that made it easy to understand. The final message of trusting yourself and your actions was really profound and many people will benefit from it. Overall, you had an amazing presentation of an interesting topic, with a message for us to live by.

  5. Great job on your talk, Phia! Your passion for this topic clearly shows throughout the video in your body language, facial expressions, and voice dynamics. The inclusion of so many examples and studies in a conversational tone also added to the quality of your talk and drew my interest in and kept me engaged. I think this topic is an interesting and important one, especially with the development of new medical techniques, etc; it sheds much light to the impact of optimism and personal psychology, and I found it extremely inspirational and informative. Question: what are some places in the world that employ the placebo effect the most (in medical ways)?

    • Hi Billie,

      Thanks for your kind words! To answer your question, I would say step right into any doctor’s office. 97% of 783 doctors who were surveyed in a study admitted to giving patients a placebo in their practice, and 77% said they did a least once a week. But these refer to the use of “impure” placebos. Pure placebos are things like sugar pills or saline injections that have zero effect on the taker. Impure placebos are antidotes that doctors prescribe simply to reassure patients, but the medicine is not likely to cure them.
      Or, you can consider some home remedies placebos. Superstitions about healing from different cultures can be considered placebo, but then we start getting into beliefs versus science conversations and that can be very very controversial.

  6. Amazing job Phia! I loved your Ted Talk and the insight it provided me towards Placebo Pills. When Ms. Mulder briefly went over this topic during a science class, I was fascinated to learn that Placebo pills weren’t real medicine, it was just a pill to “trick” people into thinking that they received a treatment.

    Placebo pills were actually something that I’ve always been interested in. I just never took the time to research it thoroughly. I was surprised that the pills could be a method of “simulation” in psychology to provide those pain reliefs.

    First of all, things I really enjoyed about your TED talk is that you described the definition of placebo very descriptively. You used scenarios and scientific language such as “control group” to describe the results in a clear and fact based manner. In between, I noticed that you gave us some thinking questions such as “What if we explore options outside of medical realm? which led the talk smoothly to your next point. Your images and charts were very fitting to the information being said, and you talked really slowly (the opposite of me!) which was great as I could digest the info before moving on. The ending was very well written and it was very inspiring to hear changes WE can make similar to the Placebo effect. i have to say, your background and presentation form was really aesthetic as well!

    One thing for next time is to make the video less choppy! But that might just be technical problems! :)

    Some points I want to address are…
    1. During the TED talk, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Placebo pills were effective 70% of the time even if the users know that they are taking on un-effective pills. Can you describe this more? How does this work considering people realize this won’t do anything to help them?

    2. Could the placebo effect be simulated to other animals instead of just humans? Animals can think and understand people’s behaviors as well.

    • Hi Jiwon! Here are some of my answers:

      1. Part of placebos is the care and attention that patients get after receiving one. They feel less alone because even though they are taking a fake pill, they feel as though someone care about them and is checking in on them, which contributes to their happiness and recovery.
      2. Perhaps so! This is an interesting question that has not been explored very much. Maybe this is something that we coukld look into in the future.

  7. Really, really engaging ted talk and great choice of topic, Phia! I was pleasantly surprised to see that somebody picked this topic since we briefly touched on it in class and I thought that it was really interesting. Your ted talk flowed together really well and you emphasized your main points really clearly. One small thing I noticed was that the audio didn’t quite sync up? BUt overall this didn’t detract from your talk at all and I learned a lot!

    However, I still have one quick question. You said that people who believe in bad luck are more likely to interpret average days as bad ones. Does this mean that if you don’t believe in the placebo, it won’t affect you? Because in the beginning you mentioned a study conducted where people were told they were being given a placebo but they were effective 70% of the time even though they knew it was ineffective.

    • Hi Michelle! Thanks for your comment. From my research, even people who don’t believe in the placebo effect seem to have reaped benefits from it. This may be because subconsciously they feel as though they are being cared for, because a professional is checking in with them. But of course, there may be exceptions…this probably requires more research. (and I noticed the audio problem when I was editing haha. Not sure why it happened, but oh well :’) )

  8. Samantha Loiselle

    Really cool TED Talk, Phia! The topic was really interesting and unique, and definitely something that I personally think is really cool. I thought it was awesome that you found multiple studies that show the real effects of placebos and how they can trick the way you think. My favourite part was when you talked about subconscious beliefs and superstitions relating to our mood and actions. I’d like to ask, do you personally think there is a way to heighten the effect of placebos through delivery of the message? (e.g. how you would tell someone something is going to hurt less) Ultimately extremely interesting and out-of-the-box topic, loved it!

    • Hi Sam! In regards to your question, there have been studies similar to what you’re talking about. In a study, one group was given nothing, the second group was given a placebo prescription but no other added care and attention, and the third group was given a placebo and had regular interactions with a doctor to check in with how they were doing. The second group improved more than the first, but the third group improved most. This is believed to be because they were being cared fore more than the second group, that only received a prescription but nor further care. So yes, I do think that he placebo effect can be heightened through the delivery of the message.

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