A wave of “health-improvement” gadgets – like the popular Apple Watch – have hundreds of millions of people hooked up to real-time feedback devices.
Providing “positive” information can improve perception of well-being.
But do they really do that?
According to a recent Bloomberg report they are just as likely to make you feel worse.
It’s being dubbed the “nocebo” effect rather than the more familiar placebo effect – translating negative data making you feel worse about your own health.
That’s a nocebo – Latin for “I shall harm” as opposed to “I shall please” for placebo. And there’s a good chance you have a nocebo strapped to your wrist, says the report.
“They’re designed to measure your steps, encourage you to exercise more, and give daily updates on your mental and physical health,” the report says. But they’re just as likely to make you feel worse.
Models of the Apple Watch occupied four of the top 10 most popular items in holiday sales.
“But there’s also good reason to think twice about whether you, or a loved one, will truly benefit from 24-7 monitoring, arbitrary goals served up by an algorithm, and regular notifications telling you that you’re stressed, tired, fit, or simply “unproductive.”
In fact, research on the “nocebo” effect has shown that perceptions of pain can increase with shifts in information and detail. Patients with suspected concussions have shown poorer neurocognitive performance when their history of traumatic injury is called to attention. Concentration falters when unpleasant data is provided. Sometimes, even a change in the color of a specific signal associated with health can trigger discomfort.
“It’s about sleep for me, because I will wake up and feel pretty darn good and then I’ll look at my score and sometimes it’s not pretty darn good,” fitness podcaster and Youtuber Ali Spagnola says. “And I can tell that I will actually feel worse after that. … It’s a real product but it literally does nothing but hang around your wrist. It’s a joke with a very serious message.”
Rather than logging on to feel inspired and connected, Instagram and Facebook have made users feel anxious and depressed.
Well-meaning executives who churn out gadgets and apps place a high degree of faith in their products’ ability to improve life. They rarely stop to think about the downsides.
“I believe that technology can make our lives better,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said in October when he announced his company’s name change. “The basic story of technology in our lifetimes is how it’s given us the power to express ourselves, experience the world with ever greater richness.”
Apple has a similar view of its own devices. Its Watch, “encourages you to be active and get more out of your workouts,” CEO Tim Cook said in September when he announced the latest iteration of the gadget. “And it monitors your health, helping you live a better day.”
But what happens if you’re just not feeling right?
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