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      Hope, the power of success

      Dr. Padraic Gibson

      Padraic Gibson is a psychologist, family therapist and supervisor. He works in Ireland, Italy and Malta. He is a Senior Research Associate and Lecturer at Dublin City University and founder of the OCD® and Anxiety Disorders Clinic .

      The hope effect, also known as the placebo effect, refers to the phenomenon where a person's belief or expectation about a treatment or intervention can lead to a perceived improvement in one's condition, even if the treatment itself is inert or inactive. It highlights the powerful influence of our mindset and beliefs on our subjective experiences and outcomes, Gibson, P. (2022). The placebo effect has been observed throughout history, but its official documentation dates back to the late 18th century, Kirsch, I., et al. (2008). The term “placebo” comes from the Latin word meaning “I will please,” and the concept came to the attention of medical research through the pioneering work of doctors Benjamin Franklin and John Haygarth in the 18th century. Franklin and Haygarth conducted experiments with inert substances and observed their therapeutic effects on patients. However, it was not until the mid-20th century that the placebo effect began to be studied and analyzed more systematically in clinical trials and medical research. These experiments appear to demonstrate how the expectancy effect can influence different domains, including pain perception, sports performance, medical treatments and mental health. This highlights the importance of using the expected response and integrating it with our self-belief and hopes, which virtually invent our experiences of ourselves and the world around us, Geers, AL, et al . (2007).

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      Sugar pills and energy drinks

      Some popular and well-known examples of the power of hope involve the use of a sugar pill (placebo) in medical trials. When patients are given a sugar pill instead of an active medication, they experience the positive effects of the real medication. Even though the pill has no therapeutic properties, some participants perceive an improvement in their symptoms because they believe in the treatment. In some studies, participants with conditions such as knee pain or angina underwent sham surgeries, that is, without actual surgery. Despite the absence of any physical changes, some patients report a reduction in pain or improvement in symptoms, demonstrating the power of human hope. In experiments on sports performance, athletes were given energy drinks that were placebos, without stimulating substances. Yet, athletes often feel an increase in their energy level and improve their performance because they believe in the effectiveness of the drink, Amanzio, M., et al. (2001). Researchers have even conducted studies using colored pills to explore the influence of expectancies on the perceived effects of medications. For example, blue pills are associated with sedation, while red pills are often associated with stimulation. Individuals may experience corresponding effects even if the actual composition of the pill is the same. Acupuncture Placebo: Researchers have used acupuncture needles or sham acupuncture to study the placebo effect in acupuncture studies. These procedures mimic the actual acupuncture procedure but do not penetrate the skin. Still, some participants report reduced pain or other therapeutic effects. Placebo treatments have been used in studies of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. Some participants showed improvement in their symptoms after receiving placebo treatment, highlighting the influence of psychological factors on well-being.



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      Key psychological mechanisms

      Anticipation and belief play a central role in the effect of hoping. When individuals have positive hopes or beliefs about a treatment or intervention, this can influence their perceptions, subjective experiences, and even physiological responses. Positive expectations can create a psychological framework that reinforces perceptions of treatment effectiveness. Conditioning and learning processes can contribute to the desired effect. Through prior experiences or conditioning, individuals may have learned to associate certain cues, such as the appearance of a pill or the context of a medical environment, with positive outcomes. These conditioned associations can trigger placebo responses and influence expectancies. The expectancy effect can be influenced by attention and concentration. When individuals believe they are receiving a beneficial treatment, they may pay more attention to positive or desirable sensations and minimize negative experiences, thereby amplifying the perceived benefits of the treatment. Positive expectations can increase motivation and effort, leading to improved performance or outcomes. When individuals believe that they will achieve positive outcomes, they may exert more effort and engage in behaviors that are consistent with these expectations, thereby contributing to achieving better outcomes. Emotions also play an important role in this effect. Positive expectations can generate positive emotions, such as hope, which can have a beneficial impact on well-being, symptom perception, and overall treatment outcomes. Social and cultural factors can influence the effect of expectations. The beliefs and attitudes of others, such as healthcare providers or peers, may shape individuals' expectations and contribute to observed effects. Additionally, cultural norms and expectations regarding treatments and cure may influence responses to placebos. It is important to note that the expected effect is complex and multifaceted, and that the specific psychological mechanisms involved may vary depending on the individual, the context and the nature of the treatment or intervention. These mechanisms interact and intertwine, contributing to the overall impact of the expectancy effect on subjective experiences, physiological responses, and treatment outcomes.

      Pascal's bet

      In the 17th century, French polymath Blaise Pascal used the earliest known version of the "as if" technique, Watzlawick (1990), to help doubting Christians regain their faith. Pascal suggested: "It doesn't matter if you doubt God now: get down on your knees, kneel and pray, use holy water and participate in the sacraments... behave as if you already believe... and you see that faith will not tarry to be with you.” These small but concrete practical actions gradually change the usual interaction between a person and their perceptions, leading the person to experience something that they first "pretended" to feel by acting "as if ". This occurs through induced self-deception, which changes the direction of the "prophecy", causing the person to experience something different from the usual pattern, which essentially and subtly reverses their old or often perceived perceptions and behaviors. dysfunctional. Acting “as if” is something an Olympic athlete will have to do if they want to believe that training at 6 a.m. on a cold November morning will win them the gold medal in a competition. He has no proof that it will work, but his beliefs and "as if" actions lead him to achieve something that "is" or "exists" now, like his first Olympic medal.

      Transformative effects of “as if” action

      If you're looking to overcome a problem or achieve a goal, here's an experiment for the next two weeks: Every day, ask yourself the following question: "What would I do differently today if I fully believed in myself or if What I think is stopping me from achieving my goal didn't exist?

      Now, out of all the things that come to your mind, choose the smallest, most minimal but most concrete one and put it into practice. Each day, choose one small but concrete thing to do as if you have already overcome your problem or have full confidence in your ability to achieve your goal. Every day, choose something different and put it into practice.



      butterfly Effect

      Butterfly Effect

      The objective of the so-called "as if" technique, Gibson (2022), Nardone and Portelli (2005) and Watzlawick (1990), is to introduce some minor changes into the person's daily routine. Even if the change is small, it sets off a chain reaction of changes that can transform a once stuck situation. This prescription is a good example of the “butterfly effect.”

      "The butterfly effect" is a term coined by Edward Lorenz to describe the idea that the flapping of a butterfly's wings in one location can, in theory, set off a chain of events leading to a significant impact elsewhere , like the formation of a tornado in a distant location. The butterfly effect highlights the nature of complex systems, in which small initial changes can have large-scale effects. Even minor variations in initial conditions or tiny disturbances can create significant differences in results. If we can change our attitude and introduce a small change in our behavior each day, we can potentially bring about a corrective and transformational emotional experience (Alexander and French, 1946) which can be easily supplemented by the introduction of other actions and hypothetical attitudes, and thus construct a new functional reality that replaces the old dysfunctional reality.  

      Making the most of nothing

      The placebo effect and the power of expectations can also be harnessed in many ways in everyday life. Here are some strategies you can also consider:

      - Mindset and beliefs: Cultivate a positive mindset and believe in the possibility of achieving positive results. Your attitude and expectations can significantly influence your experiences and well-being.

      - Placebo Rituals: Incorporate rituals or routines that have personal meaning or symbolism. For example, if you find a particular activity or object comforting or empowering, intentionally incorporate it into your daily routine to boost your confidence and well-being.

      - Visualization and mental imagery: Use visualization techniques to imagine yourself succeeding, overcoming challenges, or feeling better. By vividly imagining positive outcomes, you can reinforce your expectations and potentially improve your performance or well-being.

      - Social support and encouragement: Surround yourself with a support network of family members, friends or mentors who believe in your abilities and potential. Their positive encouragement can reinforce your expectations and give you a feeling of validation.

      - Mind-body practices: Adopt mind-body practices such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing exercises. These practices can help relax the mind, reduce stress, and create a positive mindset, which can help improve well-being.

      - Personalized Placebos: Create personal placebos that symbolize comfort or relief for you. These may include objects, symbols, or activities that have a positive association with you, which can help elicit a placebo effect.

      Responsible behavior

      These popular examples illustrate how expectations can influence our experiences and outcomes in various areas, including the effectiveness of medications, surgical interventions, performance enhancement, and complementary therapies. They irrefutably prove that our beliefs and perceptions influence our well-being. Remember that while harnessing the power of expectations can be beneficial, it is important to approach it ethically and responsibly. It is not about deceiving ourselves or others, but rather harnessing the psychological and emotional aspects of our experiences to promote well-being and positive outcomes.  



      1. Amanzio, M., et al (2001). Response variability to analgesics: A role for non-specific activation of endogenous opioids. Bread, 90(3), 205-215.  
      2. Benedetti, F., et al. (2011). Disruption of opioid-induced placebo responses by activation of cholecystokinin type-2 receptors. Science Translational Medicine, 3(70), 70ra14.  
      3. Finniss, DG, et al. (2007). The neurobiology of placebo analgesia: From endogenous opioids to cholecystokinin. Progress in Neurobiology, 84(3), 263-284.  
      4. Geers, AL, et al. (2007). A randomized trial of placebo surgery for arthroscopic debridement of the knee. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(26), 2656-2664.  
      5. Gibson, P. (2022). Escaping The Anxiety Trap. Strategic Science Books.
      6. Nardone G., and Portelli, C. (2005). Knowing Through Changing. Crown Publishing.
      7. Kirsch, I., et al. (2008). The power of suggestion: Expectancy effects in the modulation of pain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(4), 778-791.
      8. Petrovic, P., et al. (2005). Placebo and opioid analgesia: Imaging a shared neuronal network. Science, 295(5560), 1737-1740.  
      9. Waber, RL, et al. (2008). Placebo responses to a sham acupuncture procedure: An experimental study of college students. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 65(4), 373-377.

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      The quality certification was issued under
      the following category of actions: Training action

      A team of more than
      50 trainers in France
      and abroad

      of our students satisfied with
      their training year at LACT *

      International partnerships

      The quality certification was issued under
      the following category of actions: Training action


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