March 15th, 2014| Topic: RaMbLeS | 9


Perception is everything, say marketing departments. But apparently that’s true in medicine, too!

Some time ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study by a team headed by Duke University economist, Dan Ariely.

Using Craigslist, they recruited 82 men and women to subject themselves to electric shocks on their wrists, before and after taking a pill. Then they had to rate their pain. Half the folks had been told that the pill they consumed was a new pain reliever, costing $2.50 a dose. The other half were told the same thing, except the cost was given as 10 cents. (In actuality, both were dummy pills.)

Both pills worked. That’s the placebo effect. But the funny thing was that 85% of those who swallowed the “expensive” version reported significant pain relief, as opposed to 61% of those on the “cheaper” version.

Said Dan Ariely:

It’s all about expectations. When you’re expecting pain relief, you’re secreting your own opioids, and when you get it on discount, you doubt it, and your body doesn’t react as well.”

Their paper was appropriately titled, “Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy.” Ariely’s most recent book, BTW, is Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (HarperCollins).

Perception is everything—even in medicine! And irrationality is now predictable!

Expensive pill, higher value. So better effect.

This might explain why some high-priced ,brand-named prescription drugs are more popular than their cheaper, generic alternatives, even if the ingredients are the same.

Cheaper pill, lower value. So no effect.

(I argued about this the other day with a drug rep touting a brand-name cream. He claimed that the vehicle—the substance in which the medication was dissolved, made all the difference: “Our vehicle is far better than the vehicle for the generic.” So the medicine itself doesn’t matter, just the vehicle? Go figure!)

It all began when Ariely was confined to hospital for a long period after third-degree burns on 70% of his body. He noticed that some of his fellow-burn patients who woke up at night in great pain went right back to sleep after being administered a shot. A nurse confided to Ariely that the shots, most of the time, were just saline.


When you expect something to happen, your brain makes it happen.”

One reviewer, not involved in Ariely’s study, commented:

It’s a great finding. Their manipulation of price affected expectancies of drug benefit, and pain is the ultimate mind-body phenomenon.”

Other studies have shown that even pill color affects patients’ perceptions of effectiveness. Black and red pills apparently the “strongest”; white pills are the “weakest.”

For all his trouble, Dan Ariely won an Ig Nobel Prize, one of ten given each year for scientific research to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

I’ve been thinking: Pricey fake works better than cheapo fake!

But what about pricey authentic stuff? That must work real good!

Here’s one:

You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold …,
but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless,
the blood of Christ.
1 Peter 1:18–19

It’s the real thing. Pricey? Very! And guaranteed to work.

In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of His grace.
Ephesians 1:7

Only Jesus can save and save fully, save finally, and save forever.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow.
Robert Lowry, 1876

Trust the real thing, the precious thing!


  1. Luc Ladry April 30, 2014 at 8:43 am

    I think the message in the world in front of the text the author, Abe, is giving us is that: “In the end, faith will go a long way ahead of everything else to heal us.” Jesus said it well, “If we only had faith as a mustard seed ….”


  2. Amin Bata March 16, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    ” fully…finally…forever” -what powerful affirmation, Abe. It’s always a treat to see your new ramble every week. I am looking forward to your sermon next Sunday at Stonebriar.

  3. Nancy Drew March 16, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I see Abe in the lower right corner. Only because my husband taught me that Abe is literally in every one of his Homiletix postings. I can really identify with this one & it was a great reminder of The One who is more powerful than any earthly meds. I pity the poor drug rep trying to pull a fast one on Abe though!

  4. Eric March 16, 2014 at 5:25 am

    Wow, that looks like powerful stuff in the picture. Get a spoon, pour some milk, and be cured the rest of my earthly life. …which may not be very long after that, though. 🙂

    Hey, where is Abe, hiding behind the pills?


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