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The Placebo Effect

I really find the placebo effect pretty fascinating. I mean, it’s pretty amazing what we as humans do when our bodies and minds are tricked.  Let me slow down and give a brief explanation of the placebo effect

A placebo is a “fake drug” (read no active ingredient, often a sugar pill) given to a control group in medical trials to see if a real drug (with active ingredient) has any real effect.  The people in the experiment don’t know whether they have received the real drug with active ingredient or the placebo drug with no active ingredient. This way, researchers can see if there is any marked improvement for those individuals who receive the actual drug versus those who received the placebo.  What often happens is that even those who receive the placebo drug (remember, NO active ingredient) do show real improvement in whatever condition they are testing. This is called the “placebo effect” – people have real responses (physiologically, emotionally, etc.) to a fake/non treatment.  This is largely based on the expectation that they should be feeling these changes/responses. [Side note: This does not mean that active ingredients never work; what researchers/doctors are often looking for in these kinds of clinical studies is that the individuals receiving the real drug (active ingredient) get better relative to the placebo group (even though the placebo group may also experience improvements in condition).]

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Again, I’ve always been fascinated by this whole phenomenon…instances of people taking a placebo for hair growth products such as Rogaine, and they’ve experienced hair growth. (Remember, there was no active ingredient, yet their bodies had an actual physiological outcome!) Or cases, where people were rubbed with leaves they were told was poison ivy (even though it really wasn’t), yet they still broke out in rashes. Or medicine for migraines. I think it’s pretty wild, and it says a heck of a lot about our own expectations of what should happen, and how those expectations really do, in fact, shape what happens.  In this way it’s very similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that our expectations or beliefs end up shaping the reality itself.

I clearly remember one evening spent with a close friend and having a discussion with him about the placebo effect. He suggested that we take 5 hour energy drinks before heading out for a night at the bars, saying that he had done it before and had a great time. I simply told him that it was probably a placebo effect that he had experienced, and that if I gave him a shot of flavored water but told him it was the 5 hour energy drink, he would go out and have a great time as well, because he would be primed and expecting that to happen, and thus it would end up happening. Now my friend is a medical doctor, and he started going back and forth with me about the active ingredients in the energy drinks and how those had real effects. And my response to him was that I certainly did not deny that these ingredients have real effects, but that if given a placebo, he would experience many of the same effects without the 5 hour energy.  It was a fun debate to have, especially with a doctor. [Side note: He had a 5 hour energy, I didn’t. We both had a great time.]

5hr

So having this debate with a doctor also brought up some interesting, and larger, more important (perhaps) questions. If the placebo effect exists, what are the role of drugs and medications, and different treatments?  Now remember, I’m not arguing that drugs or medical treatments have no effect; just that our own expectations have a lot to do with the actual effect that they do have. (And the research is pretty clear and backs me up on this one!) The placebo effect is real and it does cause real improvements and outcomes when given to people.  Individuals’ expectations that they have received a treatment and should be getting better has a lot to do with that person actually getting better (even when the placebo has no active ingredient!). A few weeks ago, NPR talked about a medical study showing exactly this, but with an interesting twist. They gave some people with Parkinson’s a placebo drug (no active ingredient) and told them it cost $100, and they gave another group with Parkinson’s a placebo drug (still no active ingredient) and told them it cost $1500. Both groups were told the drugs should have the same effect, but those with the more expensive dose had better improvements with respect to stiffness and muscle tremor. (Remember, neither group received anything with any actual active ingredients, yet both groups showed improvement, and the pricier drug showed even more improvement than the cheaper one!) Or this similar study involving the price of pain pills.

So, what does all of this mean? I will point to a few things…. First, it’s really interesting in general, and I enjoy hearing and reading stories about the placebo effect. Second, it certainly means that our mindset and expectations have a lot to do with our reality, including how we improve medically. To add some nuance, this particular study also shows that our expectations can be influenced by factors such as price, where people tend to believe that the more expensive pill/treatment must be better (and simply from this expectation, it does create better outcomes).

Last but not least, the placebo effect can also be pretty entertaining when pulling pranks on people…. Check out Jimmy Kimmel getting people to “taste” the expensive coffee, and the video below that showing people tasting delicious water (from a hose)…

 

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Uncategorized, sociology, Advice, Media/Movies/TV

 

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Final Four for Four

Well, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the first year that I have not participated in any March Madness pools for money in a long time, just happens to be one of my best years ever filling out a bracket.  I got all of the Final Four teams correct, and really only missed a very small amount of games getting there….I was 7 for 8 in  the Elite Eight; Baylor in the West was my only miss there. But so it goes… I’m just hoping that the games this evening and in the Championship are entertaining. I still do have Michigan State as a horse in the race – if they win I will get a $25 gift card from a local ESPN radio station. I’m also rooting for Wisconsin to beat Kentucky, even though I have Kentucky officially winning it all on my bracket (Go B1G!!).  Check out my report card below (green is good):

 

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Posted by on April 4, 2015 in Sports

 

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Let the Madness Begin

We are just moments away from the tip-off of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, perhaps better known as “March Madness.”  This is what the entire season has been building to over the past few months, as someone will be crowned Champion in just a few short weeks. It is also one of the most exciting blocks of time in all of sport, as there is an incredible amount of action condensed in a very short time. Couple this action with the fact that upsets do occur – and quite frequently at that – and you’ve got a recipe for must see tv.

The games run solidly for the first weekend of the tournament from just before noon until just around midnight. So you’re looking at about 12 solid hours of entertaining college hoops for four days straight. Today the tournament starts with 64 teams, and by Sunday night, the field will be narrowed to the Sweet Sixteen.  Who will wind up in that field of sixteen is anyone’s guess.

And guess people do. Aside from the sheer entertainment of watching college basketball in large quantities with plenty of upsets, the amount of betting and office pools that accompany the tournament is incredible!  People, regardless of whether they know anything or care about college basketball at all, fill out brackets and hand over their $5 (or more – hey, watch out there high roller!) just hoping that they have picked the right balance of upsets and strong teams to make deep runs into the tournament and eventually win. And sometimes it seems that the less you know or have paid attention, the better off your bracket is…

This year, I didn’t enter any big office pools, but I still did fill out a bracket. And truth be told, this year I have probably paid less attention and seen fewer college basketball games than I have in a long time. (So maybe that means this will be one of my better brackets!)  Em also filled out a bracket, and she watched and paid even less attention than I did (which is very normal).  So that probably means her bracket will be mine….

In any case, I’m hoping to catch a decent amount of the tournament this year to catch up on and quench my college basketball appetite – which was severely lacking this year. Check out our picks below (both filled out completely separate from one another), and feel free to add your own picks or comment:

Me:

 march madness tournament

Em:

march madness bracket

 

Of course, the last time we compared and competed against one another, Em ended up beating me.  But maybe this year is my year… Side Note: I do have a horse in the race….I did enter in a “survivor league” via ESPN radio, and I have Michigan State, which is really not a terrible pick. If they win, then I win. So I’m rooting for the Spartans and Tom Izzo to win it all (even though I selected Kentucky in my bracket).  In any event, I’m hoping to catch as many games as possible, and hoping for as many good games as possible!

 

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Happy St. Patty’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all those celebrating….including the many who are probably going a little overboard.  A few thoughts on this day that so many Americans like to use as an excuse to over-indulge and claim Irish heritage.

First, it does seem that there are many who do over-indulge. Chicago is a prime example, as it seems like St. Patty’s might be the most important day of the year. I am from the Midwest and have many friends and acquaintances in Chicago, and my social media was full of shenanigans going on there. Then I saw this article on just some of the crime and arrests – a funny read, but rather unfortunate really – and I kind of paused.

In light of many recent events that have taken place across the country, why are we okay with fist fighting, domestic disturbances, public drunkenness, and small scale rioting in one of America’s largest cities. And I guess I would have to say that it is because it’s largely white, largely middle class people who have co-opted a holiday and used that as an excuse to get belligerently drunk for a day. I can’t help but think that other groups would be characterized differently – as violent, or dangerous, or menaces if they engaged in the same behavior.

Another interesting read came from Nate Silver’s blog, fivethirtyeight.com, where they tackle the question of just how Irish are people who claim to be Irish. Walt Hickey, the author of this piece, relies on some assumptions and a relatively small sample size, but his end conclusion seems to have some legitimate face value. He ends up sayin that the general rule of thumb that he finds is that 25% seems to be the tipping point for those who claim an Irish American identity.  Fifty-five percent of those with a quarter or more Irish heritage claimed that as a part of their identity, and 78% of those who were half Irish claimed an Irish American identity.

What’s important to note (and he does briefly mention this) is that when it comes to who is out celebrating, it’s not just those who are claiming to have a link to Irish heritage…it’s anyone looking for an excuse to get blitzed.

The only heritage claimed more is German. And I guess we have Oktoberfest for that. And we have Cinco de Mayo. Maybe we in America have just gotten really good at co-opting other countries’ occasions and turning them into binge drinking events.

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I myself am half Irish, although that’s not an identity I normally claim – certainly not an important one for myself – and I probably only think about it this time each year. (No, I did not go out and celebrate my heritage this evening, although we did make a spin off of shephard’s pie, a traditional Irish meal.) In any event, I hope everyone had a lovely day, whether you celebrated (responsibly I hope!) or not, and Irish heritage or not.

 

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What are your presets??

I drive to and from work everyday….about a 40 minute drive each way, depending on how treacherous I95 happens to be on any given day (without traffic it would be a 15 minute drive). This amount of commuting, while certainly not terrible, does give me a bit of time in the car each day.  Rather than sit in silence or spend it cursing all of the terrible drivers (there are plenty!), I spend most of that time listening to the radio.

On my way to and from work, I tend to listen to talk radio. My talk radio is basically split 3 ways (or 2 depending on how you want to look at it). Sports talk, and news.  I get two different ESPN stations that have different programming that I bounce back and forth on, and I also listen to NPR.  If I had to guess, I would say that about 75% of my time is spent listening to one of the two sports stations while the other 25% is spent listening to NPR.

When Em and I happen to be bopping around either in the evening or on the weekends, then it is less likely that we will listen to those stations. It’s more likely that we will try to find some jams. (I’m just not sure she’d appreciate or be interested in sports talk, although I have told her that there is probably a good chunk of interesting interviews that aren’t necessarily all sports that she would enjoy and be interested in…we’re still working on that!) So what are my preset stations for my car radio??

 

ESPN west palm beach

ESPN West Palm Beach

 

1: Latin musica – great variety of salsa, bachata, reggaeton, and pop latino (this used to be a second NPR station until I found this current one that I really like)

2: Rap / island music

3: Rap / hip hop music (between 2 and 3 is a pop/top 40s station that we sometimes flip to)

4: NPR

5: ESPN West Palm

6: ESPN Miami

So basically my top row is for my music, and my bottom row is for my commute to and from work every day.  So do my presets say anything about me? I don’t know, although I guess it says a little about the type of music that I listen to, even though the vast majority of my time in the car is actually spent listening to talk radio rather than tunes. I guess maybe it also shows a bit of weirdness in me and my organization style in that I have them arranged a specific way…

What are your presets, and does they say anything about you??

 

Note: Yes, I have presets for am radio as well, but come on… I also do have a second set of 6 presets that I could use for fm radio, however, here I’m just talking about my normal fm presets that I actually use.

Note: This is the first place that I have lived where I have had an ESPN station, or any sports talk station, available to me (at least that I’ve been aware of). When we lived up in Orlando, I listened to NPR for 90%+ of my daily commute (about 45-60minutes each way). I sometimes feel a little guilty and feel like I should be listening to more NPR down here, although the sports radio is where I tend to get most of my sports news and updates as I rarely watch any sports stuff on tv. So I justify it to myself!

 

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Soules Mates

Well dear friends, it’s been a wild ride, but our journey has finally come to an end. Our Prince Farming, Chris Soules, has found his mate. The three hour finale took us down the home stretch as Chris struggled to choose between Becca and Whitney.  And the final winner was……drum rolllll………Whitney!

Chris and Whitney the bachelor

Whitney got to meet Chris’s family first, and not surprisingly, wowed them all. She really is quite the outgoing girl and has a lot for anyone to be impressed by, including her personality, career, and ability to get along and be at ease with everyone. The sisters clearly loved her along with his parents. Whitney also let them all know exactly where she was, saying many times how much she loved Chris and also how much she wanted to be a part of the family.  She also gives great speeches, though she did tear up a bit at the end of her toast. It was a predictably perfect date.

However, Chris spent a lot of the time during Whitney’s date talking about Becca. He tried to convince his sisters and brother-in-law that the relationship with Becca was also good and was not just about the chase…even though he did admit that he wasn’t sure where she stood and that the relationship was not as far along because of that uncertainty on Becca’s part.

Which brings us to Becca’s date…which went reasonably well, although did not help to bring any clarity. Becca admitted to the sisters and the mother that she was not yet in love and was not ready to move out to Iowa. Chris’s mom tried to convince her that the feelings she was feeling were love. Red Flag: Your mom is trying to convince your girlfriend that she really does love you.

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So Chris and Becca spent half of the episode in her hotel room discussing where she was in the process. Chris was really trying to push her to get her true feelings, which basically ended up being: Yeah, I like you, but I just don’t know if I LIKE you, and I definitely know I’m not ready to move anywhere for you in the near future, and actually, I don’t even know what love is.  Ummm, ok. That just doesn’t sound promising if you’re trying to meet your mate. And Chris eventually came to that conclusion.  When he broke up with her in his pimped out barn, she didn’t seem too upset by it all… Ice Queen. I honestly think she was probably a little relieved.

Although Whitney has been my bet since near the beginning, I do believe that if Becca would have given him anything more to go on than she did, she may have been the one to win the final rose (even a vague 5 year plan might have worked). I don’t think Chris would have proposed to her,  but he might have picked her for them to move forward slowly in a real relationship. There was a certain ease between the two of them and also some simpleness(?) to their relationship which I do think could have worked well.

But he chose Whitney, and I’ve got to believe that she will do everything necessary to make sure it works. Though again, I think Whitney could probably do much better if she wanted.  Whitney also answered one of my questions that I had for her – she decided NOT to watch the season. She said that she re-watched the rest of her dates, but was confident enough in what she and Chris had together that she did not want to watch anything else. Interesting choice, and a tough one. Both to resist watching, and also to avoid watching with social media and everything else.

 

Quite the barn!

Quite the barn!

 

The final hour was actually the “after the rose ceremony” where we got live interviews with Chris and the ladies and also found out who will be the next bachelorette.  Like always, Chris Harrison ate this up. He brought out Chris and interviewed him, almost trying to get him to slip up and somehow admit that he regretted his final decision or that he was still in love with Becca.

Then, instead of introducing us to his fiancée first, they brought out Becca to recap and do more interviewing. Again, Harrison tries relentlessly to try and get them to somehow admit that they were or are in love. Then Harrison peppers Becca about her lack of love history, almost as if she’s some sort of foreign being.  Is it true that you’ve never been in love? Do you think you’ll be normal after this experience?

To be fair to Harrison, Chris did seem to be into Becca (during the show and even still during the interview). And when they met again on stage, they shared a very warm hug, and Chris still seemed to be watching intently for any sign that Becca had changed her mind or come to the realization that she did, in fact, love him. I think that if she had told him that she realized that she did love him, he would have called everything off with Whitney right then and run off with Becca. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, we said goodbye again to Becca (who still seemed totally fine – Ice Queen), and we’re introduced to Whitney to see them together for the first time. Harrison then peppered her with questions about whether she had watched and if she knew just how tough of a decision it was for Chris and how much he was conflicted. Happy engagement. Dick move, Harrison.

Jimmy Kimmel came out as well and really poured it on thick, finally presenting a cow, Juan Pablo, as a gift before he headed out. He also made some really kind of awkward, but comical jabs right to Chris and Whitney. What do you expect, it’s Jimmy Kimmel…

 

Fianlly we got the really awkward announcement of who the next bachelorette(s) will be: Kaitlyn and Britt. Whooooaaa! Two bachelorettes with the same group of guys…..wild. Harrison tried to convince us that bachelor nation as well as the production team was completely torn and so they decided to not make a decision and have them both. I still contend that Kaitlyn was easily the favorite, but the producers are thinking of creative ways to spike ratings.

It’s still unclear exactly how the show will work with two bachelorettes…. Will they both be on for the full season? Will they each get their own roses to hand out? Their own dates? It’s all speculation at this point. I guess we’ll have to tune in to find out.

 

Clearly excited to be sharing bachelorette privileges...

Clearly excited to be sharing bachelorette privileges…

 

So cheers to another bachelor love journey. It was unique, that’s for sure. But it does appear that love was found, as our hero got down on one knee and proposed to an impressive young lady who really does seem to love him. It remains to be seen if this will last and become of the (very few) success stories coming from the show. Enjoy Arlington and each other, lovebirds!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 12, 2015 in Advice, Media/Movies/TV, Uncategorized

 

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The Bachelor: The Women Tell All

Near the end of each Bachelor(ette) season, ABC brings back the contestants …errr… previous boy/girlfriends who have already been eliminated.  They get a chance to reconnect with each other, which mostly ends up in unpleasant confrontations and accusations about who was real or fake and who was the villain and who had it coming.  They also get the pleasure of watching their breakup and other awkward moments all over again….nothing like reliving painful experiences that you suffered for all of America to see…with all of America watching, again on tv. And then they get to see bachelor Chris again for closure, which of course is him just trying to save face and come off as mildly empathetic for having to let such a great girl go (remember at this point, our Romeo has made his decision and is already with one of the remaining two ladies). And it’s all moderated by Chris Harrison who just eats up the entire ordeal and continues to pry and dig in and extract those little sound nuggets of reality tv gold…Would you say that if not for Carly, you’d be with him right now?? Keep on stirring that pot, Harrison.

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This season did not disappoint in putting on some very unique personalities that in turn created lots of drama for ABC to work with. It also created plenty of fodder for last night’s episode. There were several women who were chomping at the bit to confront one another.

First things first, we can now confirm that Carly really was pretty evil. I mentioned in a previous post that she seemed to know she was on her way out and did whatever she could to drag Britt along with her. Near the beginning of the season, we kind of saw a Carly who seemed to be insecure about her own self worth and whether she deserved love, which created some sympathy and some votes for her to do well because she seemed nice and innocent. Then we find out that she’s actually a bit of a bully herself, with Britt, Jillian (how big is your dick!?) and likely others. We saw some of this in the final episodes in which she appeared, and definitely last night. Not cool, Carly.

Jillian really impressed me. Largely because she seemed to be level headed and stuck up for some of the girls when the others were really piling it on. Nice work.

Britt. Oh, poor Britt. She was not the right person for Chris, even if she did desperately try to convince us (and herself) last night that she really did love him, and that she really would have been okay in Arlington. Many of the ladies did seem to question her sincerity in these claims, but they really seemed to pile it on a bit too much. Especially Carly. And how about Em’s observation about Britt and Kelly Kapowski…

 

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Speaking of piling it on, Kelsey basically got crushed last night by everyone. I guess her eloquence didn’t get her out of this one. Not to be terribly mean myself, but I can certainly see why so many of the girls had huge problems with her. She clearly is a manipulative person, and she did think that she was better than the other girls. It’s been a running joke between Em and I that Sanderson Poe is actually a character in an olde novel which she only imagines she was married too before his tragic death…because really, whose name is Sanderson Poe? More suspiciously, who only refers to their significance other by full name!?! But the other girls legitimately calling that into question and not believing her on a sensitive issue to her face on national television is a bit over the line in my book.

Jade is again forced to bring up her Playboy history. And this time gets to confront Chris and ask him if that’s why he dumped her.  Again, he says no. She then gets upset and says that he upset her when he said he was disturbed at the difference in the way her family described her versus how he knew her, and that he thought it was awkward to look at her photos with him. She didn’t like the words disturbed or awkward…I can kind of see where she’s coming from, especially in a situation where she put herself out there (see what I did there), but come on, Jade, it’s Chris. He’s no wordsmith. On top of that, who knows how much control he even has over the blog that he has to put out throughout the season.

Kaitlyn also had a chance to gain some closure from Chris. He said that it was a gut decision and sometimes it’s like throwing darts at a dartboard in the dark. Oh, ok. I guess that’s a good method to use when trying to find love. But I get what he was saying….he had to make a choice and there really wasn’t anything wrong with Kaitlyn that made him not pick her. But she was also the only one that we heard Chris say he was falling in love with. And we know that they made some sweet love in the fantasy suite. That’s the first time I think I’ve ever heard the actual Bachelor or Bachelorette say to one of the contestants that they were falling in love to a specific person before the end of the show. Wow. And then he let her go. I still think she’s better off without Iowa, and I still think she’d be incredibly entertaining as the bachelorette…I just hope that the show wouldn’t ruin her.

The Ashleys. S really is pretty out there. She is still claiming that she is not a hired actor brought in to fawn over pomegranates or make everyone visibly nervous when handed a sharp object or paintball gun. And  I still seems to be a pretty terrible person and definitely immature. And what’s with that dress….cleave much??

Ashley I women tell all

Trina, no one had any idea who you were on the show, or that you were even on the show, until you tried to get your two cents in at every opportunity on The Women Tell All. Not interested then, still not interested now.

And of course, the maestro of it all, Chris Harrison. He is the (largely unnecessary) host of the entire bachelor enterprise, but I’m pretty sure that he lives for this episode each season.  He really loves to play the role of the counselor / therapist. Only he’s more interested in getting some juicy information out the the contestants and continuously pushing them to go deeper and give more and extract tears through the entire interview. He’s like the friend in high school who you spill your guts to and the next day the entire school knows, yet you continue confiding in that person over and over. He loves the power of the information and getting all the juicy stuff, all while stirring the pot and keeping the drama going. To Kelsey: Do you see why they might have found you to be condescending? To Kaitlyn: When was the exact moment you felt your heart break? To Britt: Would you still be with him if it weren’t for Carly? To Ashley S: Who are you….And will you please come on Bachelor in Paradise?! To Chris: They don’t call it the hot seat for nothing!

And wait…..Harrison wrote a romance novel?!?!? Oh. Em. Gee.

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So there you have it. Reality tv at its finest. It puts “real people” in a very unnatural environment with certain parameters that it can control. They then edit it for our mass consumption and entertainment. And then they bring those people back together again in an unnatural environment to confront one another and rehash all that went wrong the first time around. It’s reality tv about reality tv….they’re getting returns on their returns, and we’re all here to enjoy round two.

PS. I think my money is still on Whitney to win it all.

 

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