Nocebos, fear, and why we need to pass out lollipops


(Christy Hemphill) #1

My sister-in-law sent me this article: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/10/532110787/a-dad-takes-his-son-to-the-doctor-and-discovers-fear-of-vaccines?

It’s about vaccines and how fear affects people’s ability to evaluate information. I had never heard the word “nocebo” before.

Anyway, it just reminded me that in many of our communities, our conversations about science are hampered by an inevitable fear response that our facts and information can’t seem to overcome. So it made me wonder what our “lollipops” should be? Any thoughts?


(Phil) #2

Well written article, and very true that fear is a huge factor. People risk death every day when they don’t take a medication with proven benefits because of a possible side effect.
The fear factor is at play in many organizations who either scare you with outside threats, or inner threats that you are just not the right kind of Christian if you vary from their ideas.
A lollipop is something that giVes you a warm fuzzy feeling, amd I can think of few things that would do that, other than perhaps peace. If someone is suffering the cognitive dissonance that is the result of literalism, then realizing you can integrate creation and Creator can give peace.
That and maybe witty sayings on coffee cups, sold on the website with t-shirts and maybe lab coats.


(George Brooks) #3

Statistics are terribly cruel. They are as real as the letters imprinted in a Bible … but much harder to read! And much harder to believe at times.

No matter how small the odds, there is always the chance that a child will react to a vaccine, or any medicine, so quickly that he or she might die right in front of the parents. How do you mitigate the fear of such a thing? I am a parent, and the whole vaccine process was terrifying for me and the mother.

And then I read, again, how if a certain percentage of the population is not vaccinated against measles, the Odds geometrically increase that simply walking into an empty school room, or empty government waiting room, or even a neighbor’s home, and getting infected with active and debilitating measles virus - - left by an infected person two hours before (just by, say, coughing) !!

How else can we fight fear other than by showing there are worse things to fear!


(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

Most of us take on highly risky activity like getting in a vehicle to drive somewhere, but we’re used to it, and the steady drumbeat of traffic fatalities has faded into the constantly thrumming background noise to which we are now accustomed with a denial coping mechanism that easily sets aside those terrifying facts while we get into the car. On better days I ride my bike (along a major highway no less) which is even worse in some ways (though I don’t know the statistics --there aren’t enough of us I guess to make much of a statistic yet; but: “exposed human body vs. high-speed steel, glass, and pavement” – I know the how the physics works). But here’s the weird thing --it’s what you get used to. I’ve commuted enough times on my bike that my brain just isn’t beholden to that fear any more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m hyper-attentive with rear-view mirror and all, since I don’t have a death wish. But unlike other people who are terrified on my behalf, I laugh at the risk, because I’ve grown accustomed to it. My lollipop is that I get to enjoy greater physical fitness, eat more, and occasionally indulge in a bit of self-righteous smugness about how I’m allegedly helping save some planet or something. What people get themselves accustomed to is huge. If you’ve bought into the whole “I must drive the biggest vehicles possible because that makes me and my loved ones safer” idea, then you become accustomed to it, and now feel terrified crawling into any smaller car, even though we all did that with nary a qualm a couple generations ago before the savvy marketing strategies from American vehicle manufacturers kicked in shrewdly playing on our fears. All that self-righteous tirade aside though, I have to admit that it also has an antidote: I sure do appreciate the kindly SUV or truck driver that stops for the cyclist with a flat tire and gives them a much needed lift. It’s the good Samaritan story told for me personally reminding me who my neighbor is. As you may guess, they aren’t getting any anti-big vehicle lectures from me while I’m sitting in the front seat enjoying their air-conditioning.

The lollipop could be anything that helps us get our thoughts off of ourselves (work or service with each other?) I think does wonders for the spirit to help mitigate fear. If you’re swinging a hammer or mowing a lawn your mind is engaged in something other than reading some social media click bait that reads “…you could be next!” Also I think remembering our mortality helps in a substantial way. When we accept that there is no “if” we will die but only “when” … just like everybody else … all through history, then we can stop finding this “news” so jarring and start actually living life – deliberately acclimating ourselves to those risks that we deem to be worth it.

Maybe scientists who can speak with empathy, humor, and respect for their less scientific audiences may be a lollipop that helps a public set aside their fears to actually consider scientific results --giving them a hearing instead of instinctive or practiced dismissal. Science experts presumably have a platform above the public, but in many other areas (including religion and ideology) they are peers with their audience and if they realize and internalize this, not posturing themselves as if they are “above” their audience in every way, that goes along way to connect with the lay public who is probably hypersensitive to condescension.