Category: cognitive biases

Gluten Sensitivity as a Nocebo

| September 25, 2014 | 1 Reply

There’s an awfully large amount of money being spent on special gluten free products.  How many of the people who buy these products really need them?   According to this article on Buzzfeed, not many.    The most memorable passages from this article:

17 million people may unnecessarily believe that they are gluten-sensitive. (Source: A Mayo Clinic survey in 2012, cited in a NY Times article.)

[We] spent $10.5 billion last year on gluten-free products. (Source: Mintel, a market research company, cited in the NY Times article.)

It is especially important because a psychological disease can spread as fast as any virus but be more enduring.

A 2012 Mayo Clinic survey concluded that only 1.8 million Americans have Celiac disease. Only 1.8 million people should be on a non-gluten diet. Compare this to the 18 million people who consider themselves “gluten sensitive”

According to this article many of the people who spend lots of money on gluten-free products, gluten serves as a “nocebo,” defined below by Wikipedia:

nocebo (Latin for “I shall harm”) is a harmless substance that creates harmful effects in a patient who takes it. The nocebo effect is the negative reaction experienced by a patient who receives a nocebo. Conversely, a placebo is an inert substance that creates either a positive response or no response in a patient who takes it. The phenomenon in which a placebo creates a positive response in the patient to which it is administered is called the placebo effect. The nocebo effect is less well-studied and well-known, by both scientists and the public, than the placebo effect.

What’s the evidence that gluten is not detrimental to most people who are committed to gluten free products?

This disease is largely self-diagnosed, and studies are starting to show that it may be real in a great number of cases. Professor and scientist Peter Gibson is no stranger when it comes to studying gluten. He did a study in 2011 that gave a lot of credit to the belief in (non-Celiac) gluten sensitivity. Seeing that NCGS had become a worldwide phenomenon, he revisited the topic in 2013 with a critical look at the original assumptions. These are the measures he took to validate his results:
Subjects were given every single meal for the duration of the study.Any other potential causes of bad stomach symptoms were removed from the diet. (Think lactose from milk.) Just in case you do not think he was serious, Peter collected nine days worth of urine and fecal matter. (Now that’s a topic of conversation.) The results were pretty shocking. They concluded that gluten in no way could have caused any of the negative symptoms that the subjects were suffering from.

 

Most claims of the need to be gluten free are starting to remind me of the phenomenon of facilitated communication regarding autistics.

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Myths of Authority in Practice

| August 22, 2014 | 2 Replies
Myths of Authority in Practice

I’ve been trying to come to terms with Ferguson since it began. The shooting of Michael Browne sparked a response that surprised many people and the counter responses have been equally surprising among certain people, not so much among certain others. Every time I start to write something I find what I intended to say had already been said better elsewhere. [More . . . ]

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Asymmetrical tribal blindness

| April 8, 2014 | Reply

Paul Krugman writes:

[P]eople understand the world in ways that suit their tribal identities: in controlled experiments both conservatives and liberals systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. And more information doesn’t help: people screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview. Politics, as he says, makes us stupid. But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives. Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? I don’t mean liberals taking positions you personally disagree with — I mean examples of overwhelming rejection of something that shouldn’t even be in dispute.

At this point, I tend to agree with Krugman that more conservatives go way off the charts, but I also know many liberals that go way off the charts. Confirmation bias strikes people of all political stripes. When Obama engages in illegal wars, spies on Americans, prosecutes more people under the Espionage Act than all prior presidents combined, most liberals are silent, and even pissed to hear the criticism. I’ve also heard things like the following from liberals, with my own ears:

  • Extending benefits for the unemployed don’t disincentivize looking for work.
  • The fact that many women make less than many men is SOLELY because of gender discrimination.
  • People have “free will,” and the standard social science model (SSSM) is proven true.
  • That people NEVER choose homosexuality, that it is ALWAYS inborn.
  • That Jesus was born of a virgin.
  • That sentient beings from outer space are living on Earth.
  • That it presents no risk to the U.S. economy to borrow or print massive amounts of money.
  • That Hillary Clinton is without any faults.
  • That taking vacations on public transit (planes and trains) is not contributing to global warming.
  • That ALL men are at risk to commit rape.
  • That homeopathy and other health fads and supposed cures that have not passed double-blinds studies are “proven effective.”

You get the idea. I don’t hear these (and similar liberal silliness) as much as I hear conservative silliness, but I hear a lot of silliness out of the mouths people from all political persuasions. I will agree with Krugman, that conservatives are more prone to certain types of false statements, and his suggestions for why are intriguing:

One possible answer would be that liberals and conservatives are very different kinds of people — that liberalism goes along with a skeptical, doubting — even self-doubting — frame of mind; “a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument.” Another possible answer is that it’s institutional, that liberals don’t have the same kind of monolithic, oligarch-financed network of media organizations and think tanks as the right.

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Foot in the door effect

| March 17, 2014 | Reply

This video makes the point that you might want to get your foot in the door before seeking the full measure of what you seek.

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Graphic Novel version of super stimuli

| February 27, 2014 | Reply

I enjoyed this primer on super-stimuli by Gregory Ciotti, titled “Is Your Brain Truly Ready for Junk Food, Porn, or the Internet?” Super stimuli, featuring the work of Niko Tinbergen. He discovered that we can hijack animal’s instincts beyond their evolutionary purpose.

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Ken Ham’s Lack of Wonder

| February 7, 2014 | 1 Reply
Ken Ham’s Lack of Wonder

By now, I’m sure, many people know about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  Only 9% of respondents apparently saw Ham as the winner.  Of course that won’t be the end of it. 

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How we rewrite memories

| February 6, 2014 | Reply

We don’t always remember how things were, but how we need them to be. Here’s new evidence reported by NPR, titled, Our Brains Rewrite Our Memories, Putting Present In The Past”:

Think about your fifth-birthday party. Maybe your mom carried the cake. What did her face look like? If you have a hard time imagining the way she looked then rather than how she looks now, you’re not alone.

The brain edits memories relentlessly, updating the past with new information. Scientists say that this isn’t a question of having a bad memory. Instead, they think the brain updates memories to make them more relevant and useful now — even if they’re not a true representation of the past.

I’ve written a lot more about memory research here.

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Twenty things mentally strong people don’t do.

| January 13, 2014 | Reply

Here are twenty things mentally strong people don’t do. I do like this list- go to the article to read more. Many of these have to do with worrying about what others would think.

1. Dwelling On The Past

2. Remaining In Their Comfort Zone

3. Not Listening To The Opinions Of Others

4. Avoiding Change

5. Keeping A Closed Mind

6. Letting Others Make Decisions For Them

7. Getting Jealous Over The Successes Of Others

8. Thinking About The High Possibility Of Failure

9. Feeling Sorry For Themselves

10. Focusing On Their Weaknesses

11. Trying To Please People

12. Blaming Themselves For Things Outside Their Control

13. Being Impatient

14. Being Misunderstood

15. Feeling Like You’re Owed

16. Repeating Mistakes

17. Giving Into Their Fears

18. Acting Without Calculating

19. Refusing Help From Others

20. Throwing In The Towel

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Ten counter-intuitive psychological studies

| December 18, 2013 | Reply

This Huffpo article presents ten important psychological studies, many of them counter-intuitive, at least to those of us who aren’t yet familiar with these studies. Here are some defining traits of human animals:

We all have some capacity for evil.
We don’t notice what’s right in front of us.
Delaying gratification is hard — but we’re more successful when we do.
We can experience deeply conflicting moral impulses.
We’re easily corrupted by power.
We seek out loyalty to social groups and are easily drawn to intergroup conflict.
We only need one thing to be happy.
We thrive when we have strong self-esteem and social status.
We constantly try to justify our experiences so that they make sense to us.
We buy into stereotypes in a big way.

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