Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The nocebo effect: Media reports may trigger symptoms of a disease

06.05.2013
Expectation of negative effects can increase likelihood of experiencing symptoms / Media needs to be more responsible when warning about health risks

Media reports about substances that are supposedly hazardous to health may cause suggestible people to develop symptoms of a disease even though there is no objective reason for doing so.

This is the conclusion of a study of the phenomenon known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Those affected report experiencing certain symptoms on exposure to electromagnetic waves, such as those emitted by cell phones, and these take the form of physical reactions. With the help of magnetic resonance imaging, it has been demonstrated that the regions of the brain responsible for pain processing are active in such cases.

"Despite this, there is a considerable body of evidence that electromagnetic hypersensitivity might actually be the result of a so-called nocebo effect," explained Dr. Michael Witthöft of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). "The mere anticipation of possible injury may actually trigger pain or disorders. This is the opposite of the analgesic effects we know can be associated with exposure to placebos." The new study illustrates how media reports about health risks may trigger or amplify nocebo effects in some people.

Frequently, the media reports on the potential health risks associated with the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produced by cell phones, cell phone masts, high-voltage lines, and Wi-Fi devices. People who are sensitive to electromagnetic fields report symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, burning or tingling sensations on their skin, and they attribute these effects to this radiation. Some people actually skip work or withdraw from their social environment because of their electromagnetic hypersensitivity and in extreme cases they may even move to remote regions to get away from electrical equipment altogether.
"However, tests have shown that the people affected are unable to tell if they have really been exposed to an electromagnetic field. In fact, their symptoms are triggered in exactly the same way if they are exposed to genuine and sham fields," added Witthöft. The so-called nocebo effect was initially identified during pharmaceutical trials. Subjects were observed to exhibit undesirable side effects even though they were not receiving the medication but merely a placebo.

Witthöft undertook the current study in collaboration with G. James Rubin during a research stay at King's College in London. The 147 test subjects were first shown a television report. One group of participants watched a BBC One documentary, which dealt in no uncertain terms with the potential health hazards supposedly associated with cell phone and WiFi signals. The other group watched a report on the security of Internet and cell phone data. Then all the subjects in both groups were exposed to fake WiFi signals that they were told were real. Even though they were not exposed to any radiation, some of the subjects developed characteristic symptoms: 54 percent of the subjects reported experiencing agitation and anxiety, loss of concentration or tingling in their fingers, arms, legs, and feet.
Two participants left the study prematurely because their symptoms were so severe that they no longer wanted to be exposed to the assumed radiation. It became apparent that the symptoms were most severe among the subjects who had high pre-existing anxiety as a result of viewing the documentary about the possible hazards of electromagnetic radiation.

The study thus demonstrates that sensationalized media reports on potential risks, which often lack scientific evidence, can have a significant effect on the health of large sections of the population. Such speculation on health hazards most likely has more than just a short-term impact like that of a self-fulfilling prophesy; it is likely that over the long term some people begin to believe that they are sensitive and develop symptoms in certain situations when exposed to electrosmog. "Science and the media need to work together more closely and make sure that reports of possible health hazards from new technologies are as accurate as possible and are presented to the public using the best available scientific data," said Witthöft, drawing consequences from the study findings.

Publication:
Michael Witthöft, G. James Rubin
Are media warnings about the adverse health effects of modern life self-fulfilling? An experimental study on idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF)
Journal of Psychosomatic Research, March 2013
DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2012.12.002
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399912003352

Image:
http://www.uni-mainz.de/bilder_presse/02_psychologie_nocebo.jpg
Smartphones are part of modern everyday life
photo: Marcus Steinbrücker
Weitere Informationen:
http://www.uni-mainz.de/presse/16366_ENG_HTML.php - press release ;
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399912003352 - publication (abstract)

Petra Giegerich | idw
Further information:
http://www.uni-mainz.de/presse/16366_ENG_HTML.php

More articles from Communications Media:

nachricht New Technologies for A/V Analysis and Search
13.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Digitale Medientechnologie IDMT

nachricht On patrol in social networks
25.01.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO

All articles from Communications Media >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>