Academic Mindsets: The Placebo Phenomenon

placebo growth

Reposted from MindShift:

In medicine, the placebo effect is well known, but still mysterious. Through some unknown connection between mind and body, placebos produce changes in brain states, immune systems, blood pressure and hormone levels. Although most of us think of a placebo as a sugar pill, in fact it’s any intervention in which beliefs produce measurable changes in physiology, and thus performance. Here’s a typical example: When adults enter a flight simulator and take on the role of Air Force pilots flying a plane, their eyesight improves 40 percent more than adults who just “pretend” to fly a plane in a broken simulator. Something in the belief system shifts the body.

Results from research into the growth mindset tell us that placebos have finally hit the classroom. When students are informed that it’s possible to improve their IQ, they respond by improving their IQ. A simple message of possibility opens the door to an improvement in brain function. When distance-learning students in west Texas used an avatar from Second Life to attend virtual meetings, their new personas gave them permission to change their behavior. They turned into noticeably different and more attentive students than in person.

What’s the takeaway from the placebo phenomenon? More than anything, the results tell us that beliefs matter, perhaps much more than we realize. In many cases, the chief message of placebo research is that focusing on using the mind and beliefs to power up the brain and body is the key to better learning in the future. This approach requires that we take more seriously the latest research showing that intentional, placebo-like interventions also work.

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