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The Placebo Phenomenon and Well-Being: Notes on the Healing Process as an Evolutionary Adaptive Trait

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AbstractAs biopsychosocial beings, humans have developed numerous mechanisms that regulate and sustain life and well-being, one of which is self-healing. The term placebo response, to be understood as a meaning response and self-healing mechanism, refers to an evolutionary adaptive trait that developed as an integral part of human beings as biocultural and socially embodied beings in search of ways of overcoming assaults on wellness. As embodied beings humans function as biopsychosocial organisms where body, culture and society interact in order to bring about well-being. The placebo response is one such response by the organism and can have positive or negative effects on the organism. When the organismic response to assaults on well-being facilitates positive outcomes such as healing and well-being, it is called the placebo effect, and when it operates as a negative force as in producing or enhancing sickness and distress, it is referred to as the nocebo effect. An understanding of these organismic responses is essential for an appreciation of all health care systems and healing modalities, and consequently, for the evaluation of the efficacy and quality of potential health providers and promoters of well-being. It can also be used to evaluate the potential of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), including faith healing and distant healing. Ultimately, an appreciation of the organismic response to bring about either the placebo or nocebo effect provides insight into who and what we are as human beings.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa P. O. Box 392, UNISA 0003, Republic of South Africa, Email:, URL:


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