Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Beware that nocebo strapped to your wrist


MOST PEOPLE are familiar with the concept of a placebo, where merely providing positive information can improve perception of well-being. Yet the opposite also occurs, with negative data making people feel worse about their own health.

That’s a nocebo — Latin for “I shall harm” as opposed to “I shall please” for placebo. And there’s a good chance you have a nocebo strapped to your wrist.

A wave of health-tech gadgets — from fitness trackers to Apple, Inc.’s Watch — means hundreds of millions of people are hooked up to real-time feedback devices. They’re designed to measure your steps, encourage you to exercise more, and give daily updates on your mental and physical health. Apple wants you to “close your rings” — the three colorful circles the Watch uses to monitor your progress — and Garmin Ltd. helpfully tells you when your health is “excellent.”

They make for popular gifts and are bound to be stocking-stuffers this year. Various models of the Apple Watch occupied four of the top 10 most popular items in November’s Black Friday sales, according to Business Insider.

But there’s also good reason to think twice about whether you, or a loved one, will truly benefit from 24-7 monitoring, arbitrary goals served up by an algorithm, and regular notifications telling you that you’re stressed, tired, fit, or simply “unproductive.”*

In fact, research on the nocebo effect — first conceptualized in 1961 — has shown that perceptions of pain can increase with shifts in information and detail. Patients with suspected concussions have shown poorer neurocognitive performance when their history of traumatic injury is called to attention. Concentration falters when unpleasant data is provided. Sometimes, even a change in the color of a specific signal associated with health can trigger discomfort.

With more devices strapped to people’s bodies, noceboes are now creeping into everyday life as people put more faith in data to guide their habits. “It’s about sleep for me, because I will wake up and feel pretty darn good and then I’ll look at my score and sometimes it’s not pretty darn good,” fitness podcaster and Youtuber Ali Spagnola says. “And I can tell that I will actually feel worse after that.”

While a constant flow of data can help people optimize their health, she says she is starting to understand that the opposite can also be true. Ms. Spagnola, who produces videos on music, comedy and fitness for more than 2 million social media followers, says sometimes all we really need is positive reinforcement.

“There’s an exact moment where I speak to the camera and say: I should just make an app that says ‘you are great, and you feel awesome today,’ every day,” she says. That moment led to her producing the O Band. It’s a real product but it literally does nothing but hang around your wrist. It’s a joke with a very serious message.

The nocebo effect has become inherent in social media. Rather than logging on to feel inspired and connected, Instagram and Facebook have made users feel anxious and depressed. The constant feedback of hits, likes, and retweets has undermined what should be appreciations of creativity. According to its own research, Instagram makes teenage girls feel worse about their bodies, the Wall Street Journal reported in September.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Well-meaning executives who churn out gadgets and apps place a high degree of faith in their products’ ability to improve life. They rarely stop to think about the downsides. “I believe that technology can make our lives better,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said in October when he announced his company’s name change. “The basic story of technology in our lifetimes is how it’s given us the power to express ourselves, experience the world with ever greater richness.”

Apple has a similar view of its own devices. Its Watch, “encourages you to be active and get more out of your workouts,” CEO Tim Cook said in September when he announced the latest iteration of the gadget. “And it monitors your health, helping you live a better day.”

It’s a world where we’ve been blindsided by the unexpected. And so we want to believe that technology can forewarn us of dangers and risks. We’ve come to depend on the devices on our wrists to constantly flag us about our physical and mental health. This is more than a little naive. Sometimes all we really need is to be told we’re awesome.

*Garmin’s Connect app helpfully informs you if it’s proprietary algorithm thinks you’re peaking, recovering, detraining, or even unproductive.


Your information is secure and your privacy is protected. By opting in you agree to receive emails from us. Remember that you can opt-out any time, we hate spam too!



THE PESO strengthened against the dollar on Tuesday amid easing global oil prices and ahead of an expected increase in remittances due to the...


PHILIPPINE STOCKS extended their climb on Tuesday on last-minute bargain-hunting and ahead of the rebalancing of the MSCI. The bellwether Philippine Stock Exchange index...


The Government Service Insurance System headquarters in Pasay, Philippines. May 28, 2012. — BW FILE PHOTO THE government financial institutions (GFIs) that will be...


REUTERS THE European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) urged the Philippines to eliminate tariffs on imports of all electric vehicles (EVs) regardless...


President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. answers questions from the media after his first Cabinet meeting in Malacañan Palace, July 5. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZ JOHN...


FREEPIK AN Israeli tech investor said a country’s legal system is a major consideration in attracting foreign investment, and urged legislators to reform the...

You May Also Like


BW FILE PHOTO GROSS BORROWINGS by the National Government reached P2.6 trillion as of end-September as it continued to raise funds to respond to...


REUTERS By Luz Wendy T. Noble, Reporter The country’s foreign exchange buffers slightly increased as of end-October as the value of the central bank’s...


KARASOLAR.COM TENA, Ecuador — Ecuador’s rainforest Achuar people say their ancestors long dreamed of a “fire canoe” or “electric fish” that would let them...


COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the mental health of Filipinos across different groups all over the archipelago. From frontline workers, parents balancing...

Disclaimer: Respect, its managers, its employees, and assigns (collectively "The Company") do not make any guarantee or warranty about what is advertised above. Information provided by this website is for research purposes only and should not be considered as personalized financial advice. The Company is not affiliated with, nor does it receive compensation from, any specific security. The Company is not registered or licensed by any governing body in any jurisdiction to give investing advice or provide investment recommendation. Any investments recommended here should be taken into consideration only after consulting with your investment advisor and after reviewing the prospectus or financial statements of the company.

Copyright © 2022 Respect Investment. All Rights Reserved.