My daughter (3) and I stood at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Like in most Hollywood blockbusters, we stood and allowed our eyes to slowly survey the mighty task ahead of us; almost as if in slow motion. Then came the words "please can you carry me?" The poor little thing, this was a mammoth task for those little legs...for me, it was nothing, nada, not for this specimen in peak physical condition (yeah right!!). A choice lay before me - either you can carry your own frame up this flight of stairs, or you could do it with a precious little three year old in your arms. My response: "Daddy will hold your hand, I know you can do this." Let the trudge begin. We slogged our way up each and every stair, hand-in-hand, until we reached the summit. High-fives ensued, hugs, kisses and words of praise...what a moment between a father and his daughter...the pride was tangible. We walked along a flat landing, I opened the door for her (as every gentleman should) and we stepped outside into the sunshine. No more than four steps later, she trips over her own feet, landing on the tarmac, grazing her delicate little hands. Yip, three flights of stairs were no problem, but a flat surface...well that's another story all together.
Being the chivalrous father that I am, I picked her up and asked the question that most would..."do you want me to kiss it better?" Of course she obliged and I held her tight and kissed her grazed palms. All better. No more tears. Daddy's magical kisses had healed the pain. And then it struck me. It hit me like a tonne of bricks. How had I never thought of this before? I am a placebo dad. I teach the placebo effect year in and year out, in fact I even listen to the British trio Placebo and have a couple of their albums (not that this has anything to do with anything in this context!), but I had never noticed that we use it so often with our little ones...and with relative success.
The mind is a powerful thing, and if the expectations are that a kiss has healing properties, then it will. Obviously not for more serious ailments, but it seems to work wonders for bumps and bruises. Placebos are a genuinely effective way of coaxing the brain into thinking that the "pill" or "treatment" (in this instance kisses) has had the desired effect; the only problem is, this requires deception on the part of the clinician which is generally deemed as unethical in the world of Psychology. Is it unethical towards our children? Of course not...we practise deception every time a tooth falls out, each and every Christmas eve and at Easter time - step up the Tooth-Fairy, Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny.
I wouldn't be true to my blog if I didn't explore a few psychological findings from the world of placebo research. So here are some interesting findings to conclude this piece...
- The larger the tablet, the better the effect.
- Two pills are better than one
- Capsules are more effective than pills, but saline injections trump both
- When it comes to pain (headaches, etc.) coloured pills are more effective than white ones
- Blue pills treat insomnia better than red pills (of course!)
- Green capsules are most effective when treating anxiety
- Expectations play a major role: qualifications on the wall, white coats, genuine interest, tone of voice, etc. from doctors, all play a role in our expectations and can impact on the success of treatment whether placebo or not.