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An enactive account of placebo effects

Ongaro, Giulio ORCID: 0000-0003-2782-0642 and Ward, Dave (2017) An enactive account of placebo effects. Biology and Philosophy, 32 (4). pp. 507-533. ISSN 0169-3867

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Identification Number: 10.1007/s10539-017-9572-4


Placebos are commonly defined as ineffective treatments. They are treatments that lack a known mechanism linking their properties to the properties of the condition on which treatment aims to intervene. Given this, the fact that placebos can have substantial therapeutic effects looks puzzling. The puzzle, we argue, arises from the relationship placebos present between culturally meaningful entities (such as treatments or therapies), our intentional relationship to the environment (such as implicit or explicit beliefs about a treatment’s healing powers) and bodily effects (placebo responses). How can a mere attitude toward a treatment result in appropriate bodily changes? We argue that an ‘enactive’ conception of cognition accommodates and renders intelligible the phenomenon of placebo effects. Enactivism depicts an organism’s adaptive bodily processes, its intentional directedness, and the meaningful properties of its environment as co-emergent aspects of a single dynamic system. In doing so it provides an account of the interrelations between mind, body and world that demystifies placebo effects.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 The Authors © CC BY 4.0
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Date Deposited: 18 May 2017 09:25
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 02:32

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