Beware the Nocebo Effect

This past weekend I was introduced to The Nocebo Effect, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

Like many of you, I was aware of the Placebo Effect—the experience of positive reactions due to a belief that an intervention is positive.

By contrast, the Nocebo Effect is when people experience negative outcomes due to the belief that an intervention will cause harm.

It turns out the nocebo effect is a real concern for doctors when speaking with patients about prescription drugs and their effects.

Today, I’m widening that lens to include people with whom you might interact and situations in which you might find yourself that could cause a nocebo effect.

For example, say you are feeling pretty good about your chances of getting a promotion at work. Particularly after your boss asked you to spearhead a new team.

And then you end up in an elevator with someone who—for the purposes of this blog post—is a real Nick or Nancy Nocebo who says something like,

“Are you sure? It sounds like he’s just trying to get you to do extra work…Plus, it will take a ton of time away from your family.”

Faced with that No(cebo) energy you turn down your boss’s offer.

You say to yourself, “Maybe Nick/Nancy is right? Maybe I’m a chump.”

That’s a nocebo effect.

Because you lost out on the possibility—the satisfaction—of doing your best.

Now I’m not saying you should walk around wearing rose-colored glasses.

I am saying that when people (or your own brain) present you with a litany of gloom-and-doom side effects to taking positive action, you consider the nocebo effect.

Because a positive outcome is just as likely.


For more, take a look at “Keep Your Feet on the Grass: A Reminder About the Power of Positive Reinforcement”