We’ve been talking about the placebo effect in my statistics class and something the narrator said in this video made me do a double-take. He said that placebos don’t have to be pills; they could be lotions, medical procedures, or even just buttons we can push (suggesting that the “close door” button on the elevator or the crosswalk buttons at protected street crossings are actually not triggering anything but rather giving you a false sense of control over your environment).
That got me to thinking about how children’s learning and behaviors are reported in special education and the apparent benefit reported by various stakeholders when some new approach is tried. I wonder how many programs have been deemed successes or failures on the basis of how similar their results were to the results people expected them to deliver. Are programs succeeding and failing as the result of some sort of placebo effect?
Can we track the data on those programs that are succeeding due to the placebo effect to measure what is really responsible for their successes – the teacher’s demeanor, the way the content is presented, or whatever? What things are people consciously and subconsciously doing to promote the success of an endeavor they already believe will be successful?
The implications for public education are not slight ones. If some programs are succeeding in any significant part due to the placebo effect, we’d need to understand that in order to replicate success in other settings.