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  • (soft music)

  • (eerie sound)

  • - Hey Vsauce!

  • Michael here.

  • Every episode of Mind Field is now free to view

  • all over the world, all 24 episodes, all three seasons.

  • Whoa!

  • It is really exciting.

  • And it's why I've invited you hear to Vsauce headquarters.

  • Why watch Mind Field alone when you could watch it with me

  • and some of the researchers, writers, scientists

  • and teachers who are in the episodes

  • who made Mind Field what it is?

  • That's right,

  • we are about to have ourselves a Mind Field marathon.

  • We are going to watch three episodes in their entirety,

  • pausing throughout to talk more deeply

  • about the concepts in the episodes,

  • it's gonna be very exciting,

  • and it's all going to happen right in here, follow me.

  • After you.

  • (eerie sound)

  • We're going to begin with an episode

  • that helped new research happen and improved the lives

  • of some very special children.

  • Season Two, Episode Six, the Power of Suggestion.

  • (upbeat music)

  • This is McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

  • It boasts and enrollment

  • of more than 40,000 students from 150 countries,

  • the campus employs 1700 professors,

  • teaching 300 programs of study,

  • and it's proud to be home to 12 Nobel Prize winners,

  • it is considered

  • one of the finest research universities in the world.

  • Recently, researchers at McGill

  • have embarked on a study that uses a brain scanning device

  • to read people's minds and implant thoughts

  • into their heads, or so their subjects think.

  • Now the same device may be able

  • to help kids with ADHD, anxiety,

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,

  • migraines, Tourette's, and more.

  • This study is not about technology.

  • The MRI machine behind me may look impressive,

  • but it's a sham, it's deactivated, non functioning.

  • What this study is really about is faith, in science.

  • It's about the power of thoughts to heal.

  • All you need is the power of suggestion.

  • (machine humming)

  • (upbeat music)

  • A placebo is something that shouldn't work,

  • but due to the power of suggestion,

  • and because of the strength of our belief, does,

  • but we don't fully understand yet how they work,

  • there could be an evolutionary explanation.

  • For example, if a small child hurts themselves,

  • negative symptoms like pain and crying can be good.

  • They keep the child safe and still,

  • while signaling adults to come help.

  • When help arrives, even if it has no active effect.

  • The child's brain may feel it has permission

  • to redirect resources away from seeking help,

  • and on to actually healing.

  • Modern medicine has found a way to harness

  • this power by prescribing placebos.

  • But not all placebos work the same.

  • For example, a sugar pill will help your headache more

  • if given to you by a doctor than by a poker buddy,

  • and the color of the placebo matters too.

  • A blue pill will work to make you feel calm,

  • better than a white pill,

  • because blue is a more calming color.

  • And a red pill will keep you awake

  • and give you more energy than a blue pill will.

  • A capsule will work better than a pill

  • because it looks more important.

  • (upbeat music)

  • And we're gonna stop right there

  • because one of my guests already has a comment.

  • Let me first introduce who the guests are.

  • Daniel Toker is a PhD candidate at Berkeley

  • who has been writing and researching for Mind Field

  • at least season two and three.

  • - Yep. - Yeah.

  • - Yep, and the Fear episode season four.

  • - And the Fear episode, which isn't even out yet,

  • but it might be by the time you watch this,

  • in which case, it's out already!

  • Thanks, Daniel.

  • On the far right side, we have Elisabeth de Kleer,

  • who worked on season three as a producer, writer.

  • She's a science communicator, science documentary filmmaker,

  • but I save the middle for last

  • because Dr. Samuel Veissière

  • from the Culture, Mind and Brain lab at McGill University,

  • one of the CO directors is here.

  • And he's also going to be featured

  • quite prominently in this episode.

  • You'll see him soon.

  • And he is the one who told me, Stop let's talk,

  • because we're gonna talk about placebos.

  • And I just mentioned in the episode that the color of a pill

  • affects how it can make you feel.

  • A blue pill will tend to be more calming

  • because so many of us associate blue with calming.

  • However, we need to be,

  • when you put a star on so many of us.

  • - Yeah, so reportedly in Italy,

  • blue pills don't have a calming effect

  • because people associate the color blue

  • with the soccer jersey of the national soccer team.

  • So they tend to associate it

  • with a kind of a feeling of arousal and not calmness.

  • So it's interesting to try to parse out,

  • the different effects of some colors.

  • Red seems fairly universal

  • as something that triggers high arousal, but not blue.

  • - Is that because red is the color of blood, you think?

  • - I'm really not sure.

  • I mean, as you know,

  • we seem to have some inbuilt attentional biases towards red

  • like say the little buzzing red lights on smartphones

  • works really well that way

  • because we tend to automatically attend to them.

  • It could be blood, yeah, could be fire even

  • because we also have an attentional bias towards fire.

  • - Wait, but how universal is this?

  • Have studies looked at Papua New Guinea

  • and populations there that don't watch the movies

  • and don't have the stories

  • that we have in America or in Europe?

  • I mean, is this something that, you said in built?

  • Is it really?

  • - I'm not aware of all the studies,

  • I think red for sure is something

  • for which we have a relatively innate attentional bias,

  • red processeses salient in the environment.

  • - This is so much of it depends on the person,

  • like there could be a person here in America

  • for whom red is really calming

  • because of their particular circumstances.

  • - Yeah, it's actually funny,

  • I just got back from China yesterday.

  • So I flew in.

  • And one of the things you notice even from the sky,

  • looking down over Chinese cities

  • is how much red lighting there is, big red LEDs.

  • And so I associate red with stop, like if red,

  • it's meant to catch my attention, It's sort of alarming.

  • But in China actually, it's ubiquitous.

  • And it's more just like a color of good luck.

  • Most restaurants have their title

  • of the restaurant in red.

  • So it's also meant to catch your attention,

  • to simulate arousal but in less of like a negative way

  • that it can sometimes be here in the United States,

  • so red street sign isn't necessarily gonna be.

  • - So probably the emotional valence is conditioned

  • and culturally contingent on some level.

  • But that red is gonna be salient,

  • is gonna be something that we can automatically attend to.

  • That's fairly universal.

  • - And once we attend to it, how we feel may depend a lot

  • on the culture that we're from.

  • - Right.

  • - But I think the point is that even things like the color

  • and size and shape of a pill

  • and who gives it to you will affect how it works.

  • It's not just the chemical properties of the medicine,

  • there's so much more, so much in the mental world.

  • - Well, I mean, but that also is chemical ultimately, right?

  • Because if it's a blue pill or red pill,

  • that's gonna affect your neuro chemistry in some way.

  • - And you know what, why is it red or blue?

  • Because of the physical shape of the molecules,

  • The shape? - Right.

  • - Wow!

  • So, right, I guess this is gonna be a question

  • I wanna keep coming back to

  • how do we really define a placebo?

  • Because I think in the episode,

  • I say something like there's no active ingredient

  • that should cause that effect.

  • But yet, if a pill is calming,

  • because it happens to be blue,

  • because its molecular structure

  • reflects blue light the best,

  • then there is something chemically in that pill

  • that works in calming you.

  • And it's not because the ingestion helps,

  • it's just the color alone.

  • - Right, right.

  • I guess it's easier to define what's not a placebo,

  • as something that works better than a placebo?

  • - Well, that's why another term for placebo effects

  • are nonspecific effects, or nonspecific factors.

  • So whatever factors involved in healing

  • that we cannot attribute to the chemical substance

  • that is targeted in the treatment.

  • And there are also non specific effects in psychotherapy

  • even that are, so tone of voice setting, waiting times.

  • So placebo is really a filler term

  • for all these different psychosocial symbolic ritual factors

  • that we don't fully understand,

  • but that we know contribute to a cure somehow.

  • - Right?

  • So those are called non specific, the specific ones.

  • How are they defined they are.

  • - So the specific one would be

  • the actual analgesic property of a pill,

  • for example, has been well studied in RCT,

  • we know it produces that effect.

  • But then we know that there are other effects around

  • and beyond that, that also contribute to healing.

  • And in the case of an actual placebo procedure,

  • where we know that specific molecule

  • is not actually present in the pill,

  • but healing will still happen, then we need to investigate

  • these different effects, these different factors.

  • That are nonspecific.

  • - Maybe this works, a nonspecific,

  • non placebo effect of a medicine would be what works,

  • even when it's administered to someone in a coma,

  • who doesn't know what's happening,

  • doesn't know who's administering it.

  • But we know that that molecule in the blood

  • causes blood pressure to go down,

  • or whatever, causes pain to be felt less, I don't know.

  • - But be careful because there are,

  • placebo effects have been found, for example,

  • in nonverbal autistic children,

  • who for sure cannot understand the nature of the suggestion,

  • because, of course, if you have some kind of an idea

  • about a therapeutic target and a mechanism of action,

  • so I have a headache,

  • and this one pill removes the headache,

  • then that will greatly help in the placebo effect.

  • But what about the case of autistic nonverbal children

  • who have no idea, who don't expect anything,

  • and yet there's an effect,

  • there's a social cognitive component to placebo effects,

  • you have to be able to expect

  • what other people expect of you even implicitly.

  • So probably in the case of the nonverbal autistic children,

  • it's also say, the reassuring tone of voice of the parent,

  • the parents shifted expectations,

  • the sort of contagious hope that might work.

  • And the same mechanism, same social mechanism