New Study Says Media Creates Disease Symptoms With “Nocebo Effect”
May 6, 2013

New Study Says Media Creates Disease Symptoms With “Nocebo Effect”

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A new study says the media can take some partial blame in triggering symptoms of a disease.

Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz performed a study to see how what the media reports about health risks affects whether we experience symptoms, creating the "nocebo effect."

"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," explained Dr. Michael Witthöft.

Researchers said their study illustrates how media reports about health risks triggers or amplifies nocebo effects in people. For example, the media can often report about the potential health risk associated with electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produced by cell phones, high-voltage lines, and Wi-Fi devices. People who are sensitive to EMFs report symptoms like headaches, dizziness, burning or tingling sensations on their skin.

"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," said Witthöft.

He and his colleagues studied 147 test subjects who were first shown one of two television reports. One was about potential health hazards from cell phone and Wi-Fi signals and another that worked as a placebo. All the subjects were exposed to fake Wi-Fi signals they were told were real, and were then asked to report if they were developing any symptoms.

According to the study, 54 percent of subjects reported experiencing agitation and anxiety, loss of concentration or tingling in their fingers, arms, legs and feet. Two of the participants left the study because their symptoms were so severe they no longer wanted to be exposed to the assumed radiation.

"Science and the media need to work together more closely and make sure 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.

In 2011, researchers from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen said they found no link between the long-term use of mobile phones and brain cancer, despite accusations. After studying 358,403 people, the researchers saw cell phone subscribers who had mobile phone contracts 13 years or more had the same cancer risk as non-subscribers.