The Linguistic Placebo Effect
by I. Tinerant, Wandering Academic
Of course it is important, when setting out on an academic adventure, to properly prepare by briefly reviewing the relevant existing literature. A brief review of various studies concerning impact factor shows a clear correlation between interdisciplinarity and tenure-trackedness. A similarly brief review of similarly various studies in the medical literature demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the placebo effect is quite real, and best of all, it works whether you believe in it or not. A somewhat briefer review of somewhat less various psychological studies hints at the idea that the use of electric shocks is correlated with increased citation.
Having onboarded these interesting paradigmaticities, it is time to proceed to the next phase of our endeavor.
In order to experience the maximally multifarious multiplicity of the outcomes, it is best to take as our set of experiments the Cartesian cross-product of the features of interest, which are:
- The subject is told that treatment will increase the subject’s eloquence and fluency.
- The subject is told that treatment will decrease the subject’s eloquence and fluency.
- The subject is told that treatment will have no effect on the subject’s eloquence and fluency.
- An authority figure in a white lab coat applies a mild electric shock to the subject.
- An authority figure in a white lab coat applies a moderate electric shock to the subject.
- An authority figure in a white lab coat applies an extreme electric shock to the subject.
- The stimulus is applied to the subject’s hand.
- The stimulus is applied to the subject’s tongue.
- The stimulus is applied to the subject’s buttocks.
- The subject is a native signer of a signed language.
- The subject is a native speaker of a spoken language.
- The subject is a native flatulator of the ffffffffffrT Tribe,* who communicate primarily via flatulence.
- The subject’s eloquence, based on the swooning of specially bred mice standardly used in philology and literature studies.
- The subject’s fluency, based on Verbalocity Score™, calculated as (m/s)MLU; where m/s = morphemes per second; and MLU = mean length of utterance).
After running 5 or 6 iterations of each of the 81 experimental paradigms, several clear patterns—some expected, some surprising—emerged, along with a few murkier tendencies.†
- There is no correlation between subject expectation and anything.
- There is a strong inverse correlation between stimulus intensity and eloquence. More intense stimuli elicited less eloquent responses in most subjects.
- There is a strong correlation between stimulus intensity and fluency. More intense stimuli elicited more morphemes per second, but mean length of utterance was shorter, as many utterances consisted of single swear words. Lots and lots of swear words.
- There is a moderate correlation between stimulus location and fluency and eloquence, with increasing fluency and decreasing eloquence from buttocks to hand to tongue.
- There is no correlation between reaction to stimulus intensity and communicative modality. Signers, speakers, and flatulators all reacted similarly.
- There is no correlation between reaction to stimulus location and communicative modality.
Analysis and Conclusions
The results were, frankly, unexpected. However, rather than being disappointed, I took this as an opportunity to increase the interdisciplinarity of my research. Based on additional interdisciplinary consultation with freelance anatomists and statisticians on the internet, I hypothesize that variation in responses associated with stimulus location may have been confounded by the unaccounted-for variables of sensitivity and nerve density of bodily locations.
Based on additional interdisciplinary consultation with freelance experimental design consultants on the internet, I plan to conduct further experiments with different placebo-effect–inducing stimuli, including:
- Varying the authority figure’s appearance between wearing a traditional white lab coat and wearing a long black leather coat and mirrored sunglasses.
- Investigating a pill-based placebo effect by allowing the subjects to choose between a red pill and a blue pill.
- Investigating other stimulus modalities, including cross-modality location sensitivity, by applying a hammer to the subjects’ body parts with varying degrees of force.
Despite the need for further research, I need to publish now, so I will conclude in the current study that the linguistic placebo effect is less affected by what the subjects are told, and more by what placebo-inducing stimuli are applied to them. Further, the linguistic placebo effect, as evidenced by this study, varies along different, and potentially more interdisciplinary, dimensions than the medicinal placebo effect.
It remains to be seen whether the linguistic placebo effect has any impact on employment prospects for empirical linguists. A longitudinal study of the matter is underway.
* Special Thanks to Claude Searsplainpockets, who introduced me to the ffffffffffrT and their wonderfully windy ways.
† We have not reported on all of the tendencies observed in the data; some of the more embarrassing tendencies have been omitted. The data are still young, and may just be going through a phase.