Humans have believed in the healing power of positive expectations since the beginning of recorded history. Often anecdotally documented and as often disputed, the idea that ideas heal has co-evolved with contemporary medicine. A recent incarnation is the phenomenon of the "placebo effect," a healing response caused by the meaning ascribed to a treatment rather than its intrinsic healing properties (e.g., a sugar pill to treat pain). With the advent of non-invasive measures of human brain activity, it is now possible to conduct scientific research on the mechanisms by which thought and feeling interact in the brain, and how those brain processes regulate the body's physiology. These studies suggest that placebo effects arise from a form of positive expectation that shape how the brain responds to aversive events. In this talk Dr. Wager will review this work and discuss how brain-based studies are leading to new models of interactions between thought, emotion, and health.
TOR WAGER, PH.D. received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in cognitive psychology, with a focus in cognitive neuroscience, in 2003. He joined the faculty of Columbia University as an Assistant Professor of Psychology in 2004. His research focuses on the neural mechanisms involved in the cognitive regulation of emotion.