The Placebo Effect
Imagine you've just been handed a gummy bear -- not just any gummy bear, but a gummy bear of incredibly fast running powers. Scientists around the world applaud its superhuman capabilities! If you ate it, do you think you'd be able to run faster?
Here's the thing: gummy bears of incrediby fast running powers don't really exist. You knew that. After all, it's kind of a silly idea. The funny part is that sometimes when you just think something might work, it does anyway. This strange occurence is called the placebo effect. Test your friends to find out if you can replicate the placebo effect's incredible results.
Will the placebo effect make your friends run faster?
- 10 Cups
- Food coloring
- 10 kid volunteers
- Find a park or a running track where you'll have lots of rooms to test your friends' running speeds.
- Spend an afternoon timing your friends, one by one, as they run a short distance. If it's on a standard track, don't try anything longer than one lap, or a quarter mile.
- Don't have any of your volunteers run at the same time -- this is not a race.
- Carefully record each time in your notebook.
- Tell your friends that the experiment will continue tomorrow. They'll be timed running the exact same distance, but only after drinking a new energy drink for athletes.
- The next day, prepare your "energy drink for athletes." In reality, this will be nothing more than water with a few drops of food coloring and some sugar. First, fill your 10 cups with water.
- Split the cups into two separate groups of five cups each: the "energy drink" group and the control group, or the group that will just be plain water.
- Pour one teaspoon of sugar and a couple of drops of food coloring into each of the cups in the "energy drink" group.
- Mix the sugar, water and food coloring with a spoon.
- Think about the experiment that you're about to conduct. Five of your volunteers will think that the fake energy drink you made might actually make them run faster. Do you think this will influence their times? What about the people who know they're drinking plain water?
- Write down your guess, also called a hypothesis, in your notebook.
- Divide your volunteers into two groups of five. Explain to the first group that they will be the control group. Good science experiments require a control group so that scientists can test the results of a new product, in this case the fake energy drink, against the results of something normal, like water.
- Have this first group drink a cup of plain water before running.
- Time each of them, one by one, before recording it in your notebook.
- Explain to the second group that they will be trying an exciting new energy drink, made especially for athletes.
- Have each of them drink all of their "energy drink" before running.
- Record their times.
- Take a look at your results. Did any of your friends' times stay the same? Did any of the times improve?
Volunteers who drank the fake energy drink should have run faster than they did the day before. On the other hand, you probably didn't see much of a change in the volunteers who just drank water.
The mind is often stronger than the body. It sets your limits, moods, and feelings. The placebo effect isn't a trick -- it's very real. If you can convince someone's mind of something, it will often affect their body. Scientists have also proven the placebo effect in medicine. People who receive a placebo, instead of actual medication, often report relieved symptons. They thought they were receiving medicine, so they convinced themselves they were feeling better.
Do you think it made a difference that your experiment used kids? What would happen if you conducted the same test on adults? Keep testing and experimenting to find out what else there is to discover about the mysterious placebo effect!
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state’s handbook of Science Safety.