Placebo Paraphernalia for Favouring Frustration and Prompting Play.

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It seems likely that the mechanism of the placebo response is through the production of what are called endogenous endorphins (naturally produced opiate substances) produced by the person being treated. Endorphins are released whenever we feel good, whatever the reason.

In pain, which I know best, approximately one third of patients will have a significant improvement in painful symptoms when treated with an inactive agent. This effect is increased if the doctor states that the new agent is superb. There is also a substantial placebo effect in depression and skin conditions, but much less effect in clear disease entities such as bronchitis and heart conditions.

- Stephen Tyrer, Psychiatrist and my Dad

That’s my Dad. He’s one of the leading researchers into placebo’s and their effect on depression. Alot of my Dad’s research looks into creating a believable experience for his patients as instrumental to the effect of the placebo. Queue the Experience Designer and Birgit Mager’s quote that “Experiences cannot really be designed, only the conditions that lead to experiences”. I’m taking the placebo approach on board full throttle now and aim to test it in eliciting a playful response in the face of frustration (caused by error). I’ve been finding some great examples of placebo’s used in a playful way to cope with fear, confusion and behavioural control.

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The Benrath Senior Centre in the western city of Düsseldorf has placed a fake bus stop outside their building. Police kept having to retrieve patients with dementia who left the centre thinking they had to get home, but forgot where they should go. Now the placebo bus stop gives them a place to wait until staff find them. The staff then say the bus will be a little longer, and why don’t they come in to have a cup of tea. By the time the patient is inside they’ve forgotten all about wanting to go home. Brilliant!

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This is a classic – the fake fly in the toilet trick in order to get men to aim more effectively and avoid spillage.

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Fake Speed Bumps in Philadelphia that slow down drivers at a fraction of the cost. Even when the novelty wears off, the optical illusions are still conspicuous.


Ted Dewan who took a more slapstick approach and made fake crosswalks with melon-headed dead people.

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Reflectors at the side of the road are made to look like a deer’s eyes, making drivers more aware of the danger.