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 The plastic brain: Better connectivity of brain regions with training
02.07.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien

nachricht Arguments, Emotions, and News distribution in social media - Leibniz-WissenschaftsCampus Tübingen
04.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien

All articles from Communications Media >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Research finds new molecular structures in boron-based nanoclusters

13.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

Algae Have Land Genes

13.07.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>