What is placebo? By definition, a placebo in medicine is: a pill or substance that is given to a patient like a drug but that has no physical effect on the patient. In other words a sense of expectation is set within the patient’s mind that they are taking an active medicine that is to perform some function for their mind/body and generally some effect is noticed as a result of the taking of said placebo. Imagine that. An effect is manufactured by the patient’s mind/body based on the simple power of expectation and or belief that the placebo will enact a desired result. For drug studies this often has a confounding effect on the test results, but for our purposes, no matter. What is more important is that simply by setting an expectation for an outcome, the mind/body delivers a self-manufactured result.
It has even been shown that even when the patient knows beforehand that the placebo is a placebo, the mind/body can create the same desired result without the use of trickery. In other words, once the expectation is set, even with prior knowledge of the inert nature of the placebo, the patient’s mind/body can deliver on the expectation. It appears that simply setting the expectation can create an environment for success. Therefore, by believing positive expectations for an outcome, you are building the platform within the mind/body to repair and heal itself. And in turn, positive beliefs are turning on the parasympathetic response mechanism, within the brain, for calming the body, a virtual cascading effect of benefits.
So can it be said that hypnosis employs the same mechanisms as a placebo would? Yes, in many ways it is an enhancement of the placebo effect. To begin with, the hypnotic subject generally comes to a session with full expectations of a positive outcome. Because the subject is guided by a hypnotist to reach a desired state of mind suitable for subconscious learning and is encouraged to image success, the results can and often are as substantial as those of the placebo effect. It has been shown that meditation, like hypnotic trance, helps lower the stress hormones in the body by lowering the fear response in the amygdala, an important brain area for hypnotic trance. By reducing fear and negative expectations, the mind/body is able to carry out on desired results.
Again results can be quite remarkable. Positive imagery, accompanied by belief and expectation can create physiological responses comparable to actual execution of physical activity. The classic example is in sports performance, where golfers, basketball players, Olympic swimmers, etc. rehearse via visualization only in their minds and actually improve in their field performance. All it takes is a small investment (sometimes as little as 11 hours) in training the brain to produce structural changes within the brain to produce the desired results. By setting expectations positively for desired outcomes via hypnosis, imagery or meditation, this will often result in the brain manifesting an outcome matching the expectation in your inner and outer worlds. So, does placebo equal hypnosis? Perhaps, but both highlight how effective our brains are at executing expectations, once set, into a concrete and real result.