Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Medicine Technology

Biofeedback Games and The Placebo Effect 57

vrml writes In medicine, it is well-known that sugar pills sometimes produce the same effects as real drugs (Placebo Effect). But could that happen with computers too? The first scientific study of the Placebo Effect in computing, just published by the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies , gives an affirmative answer. The experiment considered affective computing, that is those fancy applications that claim to know user's emotions by detecting physiological parameters with sensors. Researchers took two well-known affective computing systems and used them to control in real-time the state of an avatar that looked more and more nervous as users' stress level increased, and more and more relaxed as it decreased. But they also considered a third system in which, unbeknown to users, the sensors were disconnected from the computer and the avatar state was controlled by a random stream of physiological data instead of the real user's data. Results show that participants believed that the sham application was able to display their stress level. Even worse, only one of the two (costly) affective computing systems produced better results than the placebo. This suggests that evaluations of such novel computer applications should include also a placebo condition, as it is routinely done in medicine but not yet in computer science.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Biofeedback Games and The Placebo Effect

Comments Filter:
  • by erice ( 13380 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @10:22PM (#47472189) Homepage

    The emotional state of the player is influenced by what he sees on the screen.

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      It sounds like highly subjective inferences are unreliable and indistinguishable from background randomness.

      Which has nothing to do with the placebo effect.

      • by Mr0bvious ( 968303 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @10:42PM (#47472277)

        I think the reference to the placebo effect it the users belief that the system can understand their emotions and not about if, why or how the devices fail.

        The author also seems to suggest that the study/awareness of the placebo effect is only routinely used in medicine, but it's the one of the reasons why double blind tests are used and they are used in many industries besides medicine, including computer science.

      • The thing is there are very good feedback therapies, I saw an application recently that was originally designed to help dancers perfect their moves. A neuroscientists working near the Sydney opera house who was interested in dance found it also helped stroke patients, undermining 35yrs of her own work in the field. But like any real scientists she had found a "better answer", so her opinion spun on a dime.

        The fact that scammers make similar claims for a $5 app doesn't distract from the real benefits "bio
    • I think it's this "other way around"...

      maybe affective computing is just wishful thinking...

      first, it's established fact that we have sensors that can detect changes in brain waves from outside the body, and further that by intentionally thinking a certain way, those signal alterations can be detected and connected to control systems

      that's scientific fact & is really interesting...been around for decades, but still, mind control and all that

      2nd, saying you're testing "the placebo effect" is a good way t

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        The placebo effect isn't just in medicine. Anytime someone has done something that they feel should act a certian way, there is a change of a placebo effect.
        The wikipedia article focuses solely on the medical aspect use aspect of it, but external things can also cause an placebo effect.

        For exanple: the more people pay for wine, the higher quality they think it is. It tasted better to them. Same mechanism

        also, it An placebo effect, not THE placebo effect. There are different type, different categories, and t

        • For exanple: the more people pay for wine, the higher quality they think it is. It tasted better to them. Same mechanism

          thnx for the response but...i have to respectfully disagree here...not with you per se, but more with common parliance

          the situation you describe is *similar* to "the placebo effect" used in research, but it is not an example proper

          the situation you describe is an *economic* effect, which should not be confused...they call it the "snob effect" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org] In college I

  • by Scottingham ( 2036128 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @10:58PM (#47472323)
    I wonder if this effect could be used therapeutically. Have the biofeedback and all, but maybe provide a nudge/bias towards stress relief...

    But then, that's not much better than putting crystals over a client's (rube's) body to let the negatons out.
    • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @11:24PM (#47472415) Journal

      The Placebo Effect is just our poor bodies reaching some limits vs more and more clever scientific studies.

      As I understood it, it was self healing abilities only triggered by "someone gives a damn about me" that we don't easily access every day to fix other problems.

      So having computer programs just goes more towards the whole "look, it's now on a computer" we've seen in darker scenarios. I'll stay positive on this note.

      If you just stick 300 fortune cookies into a computer program, a few of them will strike home and then you get "therapeutic benefit". (I know, because I have a file of over a hundred of them, from asking my Chinese restaurant to give me a bunch each time. A few of them are really pretty good.)

      Studies keep trying to go super narrow to carefully limit "complexity" but I am beginning to think the "Scientific Method" is on the verge of missing "Emergent Results" when they risk small details but leave behind controlling micro-scenarios.

      Sideways from the Slashdot tradition, I didn't read the article because one look at the summary says it's too narrow, and it's become the Press's job to "expand them". Some journalists try hard, a few are hacks.

      Much more broadly, I have smashed together a few projects I know have helped me.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        The placebo effect heals nothing. It makes people feel better, not actually make them better.

  • Isn't this the same con perpetrated by the lie detector industry?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      As a representative of the respectable lie detector industry, I must say that there is no con. I'm ready to take a polygraph test to prove it, or, if you prefer, we could use a Ouija board and ask the opinion of an unliving party.

    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      Lie detectors are fine if you understand their limits, and what the results mean.
      • I.e. they don't actually detect lies.
        • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
          Actually, that is accurate enough, although doesn't tell the whole story. Lie detectors are means of trying to detect a 'Tell' . The specifically try to find a 'Tell' by measuring bodily functions that the vast number of people have no voluntary control over. Placing 0% faith in lie detectors is even more foolish than placing 100% faith in them.
      • Lie detectors are fine if you understand their limits, and what the results mean.

        I feel the same way about fortune tellers. Most fortunes told are fine if you understand their limits, and what their results mean.

        Thankfully, I'm smart enough to know all of that, because I've actually studied fortune telling just like you must have studied lie detectors [antipolygraph.org] and you could say I've become quite the authority on the subject of fortune telling and writing fortune cookies.

        • If you can draw a comic book character, you can invent complex biofeedback machines that read 4 streams of hard data to yield a subjective determination on a subjective statement run through any number of mental processes.

          I don't see why one wouldn't give you all the skills for the other.

        • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
          Lie detectors are means of trying to detect a 'Tell' [google.com] . The specifically try to find a 'Tell' by measuring bodily functions that the vast number of people have no voluntary control over.

          You are either completely ignorant of how lie detectors work, or you are hoping that if you wish hard enough, you can make unpleasant realities go away.
  • What if... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sd4f ( 1891894 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @11:31PM (#47472435)
    I wonder if this has any implications for internet crap that goes viral. Reason for it is, that so much stuff has gone silly, but I am never able to discern why, it always seems just stupid to me like gangnam style or the old spice commercial. It would be interesting to see if people were led to believe it was going viral, would it change their opinion, as opposed to just regular crap on the internet which goes nowhere. Is this a case of placebo effect as well, where people are told to like something because everyone else does, if you remove the everyone else and telling aspect, would the same content matter?
    • That's why TV shows have laugh tracks.

      Oh yeah, and slashdot comments are definitely funnier when they have been modded to +5 Funny.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        I wold like t see a study about laugh tracks in todays society. I have stopped watching show becasue laugh tracks are so damn annoying, AS are live study laughing.
        If the joke hits, it hits, if not you are just waiting a second while the luagh track happens, taking away form the show.
        Watch a how with a laugh track with the volume turned off. Actors more to spot, lips move, everyone stops and stares at each other for a second, rinse repeat.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So all of those papers using computer science to process control vs non-control didn't have a control. Darn...

  • Reminds me of this [abstrusegoose.com].

  • The 'placebo' one is merely successful using the data collected by this feature. And we all know that it exists - every computer will go wrong just when you are most dependent on it working right...
  • Pity that the article is behind a paywall. Anyone has a link to the full text (PDF)?
  • Study finds: "Subject trying to learn how to relax, manages to relax, despite the relaxation aid being BS or even counterproductive."
    Conclusion: "Recommend that autonomy of subject is taken into account in future studies, where success during trial is in subject's interest."

    In good biofeedback studies, the subject should not be aware of the parameter they are attempting to control (e.g. I read a study in which the subject learned to raise and lower their body temperature at will, where as far as they wer

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      "Biofeedback is an interesting field with a lot of good scientific support"
      err.. no, not a lot. a few studies. None that I have read were very good.
      I'd be happy to read a good solid study if you have one you can share, or link to.

      • A quick Google scholar search for biofeedback returns "about 139 000 results", for just papers; patents and citations unchecked.

        I recommend reading anything by John V. Basmajian. He wrote a good criticism of what he saw as common fallacies in EMG research in a chapter of "Mind/body integration : essential readings in biofeedback" (itself a mixed bag of good and poor articles.)

        Some links to articles of interest: Moser et. al. 1997 [europepmc.org], Rodriguez and Rosa 2012 [], Andrasik 2010 [ccjm.org]

        Happy reading!

  • Users agree: adding a progress bar makes a thing faster.

  • I remember going into the office next to mine at a game development company and watching a couple of guys playing a boxing game. After a minute or so, I noticed that the movements on the screen seemed to have little to do with what the guys were doing with the controllers. I watched a little longer and asked if they were actually playing the game. They checked, and the game was in demo mode.

  • ", it is well-known that sugar pills sometimes produce the same effects as real drugs "more correct:
    , it is well-known that sugar pills sometimes make the patient feel like they are experiencing same effects as real drugs

    It's important because charlatan take advantage of the first statement. There are case where people give up real treatment in place for a magical one and swear they 'feel' better.
    Andy Kaufman is a great example.

    More accurate even:
    Deceiving one self based on an emotional buy in to something.

    • ", it is well-known that sugar pills sometimes produce the same effects as real drugs "more correct:
      , it is well-known that sugar pills sometimes make the patient feel like they are experiencing same effects as real drugs

      How about simply s/effects/results/?

      You can take it as either an endorsement of positivity or an indictment against some drugs, which we hope are not actually approved.

  • There was some survey done in the UK a few years back where the researcher went around and asked a bunch of people in various disciplines how often they used double-blind experimental designs. The results were kind of depressing. Physics was the worst at about 0.5% or something. Medical stuff was around one third. Oddly enough, the highest rate was for... ESP researchers.

    So this sort of thing seems pretty widespread.

The best defense against logic is ignorance.