Mini-Science 2011 – From the chemistry of chicken soup to the chemistry of the brain and behaviour

Mini-Science logoAt the conclusion of each Mini-Science lecture, audience members submit their questions to the evening’s presenter, who answers as many as possible on the spot. Three of the unanswered questions are sent to the presenter for posting here. Here are questions from Dr. Amir Raz’s lecture “From the chemistry of chicken soup to the chemistry of the brain and behaviour” (March 23, 2011).

Q: Have placebos improved and/ or been changed?

A: Placebos change all the time. There is no standard placebo in medicine and it can range from lactose all the way to pressed wood. The interesting aspect to notice, however, is that placebo responses and placebo effects seem to be on the rise over the past decades. Some academics speculate why this seems to be the case. But it is just speculation.

Q: What is the ‘White Coat’ effect?

A: The white coat effect usually refers to blood pressure measurements. When people get their blood pressure measured by a person wearing a white coat it tends to be higher. By extension, it refers to other effects brought about by the physical presence of health professional rather than by the actual therapy offered.

Q: Can love letters improve your brain power?

A: It would really depend what these letters say and how. But I am personally unaware of any studies that looked into this particular question. I would venture to think that love letters would make the recipient feel, well, loved. Love can be a powerful emotion and may well alter brain function.

Please visit the Mini-Science website for more information about the lecture series.

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