Alan Sands Entertainment


Thomas R. Verny M.D.

The Power of Words
Current use of hypnosis and placebos.
Posted December 26, 2021 in Psychology Today | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

Words carrying an emotional charge affect water as well as all living cells.
Hypnosis is an example of how words can affect the mind and how the mind, in turn, can affect the body.
Response to a placebo is a function of the symbols, rituals, and behaviors embedded in the clinical encounter.

Mind Over Matter

Through the 1990s, Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese author, researcher, photographer, and entrepreneur, performed a series of experiments observing the physical effect of words, prayers, music, and environment on the crystalline structure of water. Emoto exposed water to different variables and subsequently froze it to form crystalline structures.

In one series of experiments, Emoto taped different positive and negative words on containers filled with water. The water container stamped with positive words produced more symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing crystals than the water in containers stamped with dark, negative phrases. "Water is the mirror of the mind," according to Emoto. Emoto's research demonstrates that human vibrational energy: words, spoken or written, feelings, and music affect the molecular structure of water. But it is not only water that our thoughts and feelings may affect. For example, research shows that even heart contractions become erratic, disordered, incoherent with negative emotions, such as anger or frustration. In contrast, positive emotions, such as love or appreciation, are associated with a smooth, ordered, coherent pattern.

Many people have replicated Emoto's rice experiment, including two of my friends. They kept two labeled jars of cooked white rice on top of their piano, not too far apart so that they would have the same light and room temperature, etc. Toward the rice on the left, they daily directed their voices, saying, "Thank you! You're beautiful!" Toward the rice on the right, they said, "You fool! You stink!' Three months later, the rice in the first jar was a bit grey, while the rice in the second jar was almost black and starting to decay. Finally, after another three months, the rice in the first jar was still in pretty good shape, while the rice in the second jar (you stink) was decomposed and stunk.

Water makes up 80 percent of rice as well as of our bodies. So what effect do words with an emotional charge have on humans? While there is much psychological evidence for the power of words, there is a shortage of biological research on this subject. An example of the former approach is the research of David Chamberlain, a San Diego psychologist and one of the early pioneers of Pre and Perinatal Psychology. According to Chamberlain, birth memories that arise in the course of insight-oriented psychotherapy illustrate how babies can be stung and poisoned for decades by unkind remarks such as "What's wrong with her head." Or, "Wow, this looks like a sickly one."


Another example of how words can affect the mind and how the mind, in turn, can affect the body is hypnosis. Hypnosis is best described as an altered state of consciousness, similar to relaxation, meditation, or sleep. Traditionally, psychologists and neuroscientists have been skeptical of hypnosis and distrustful of participants' subjective reports of profound changes in perception following specific suggestions. However, the advent of cognitive neuroscience and the application of neuroimaging methods to hypnosis have validated participants' subjective responses to hypnosis. Therefore, it is not surprising that in 1958, the American Medical Association suggested that hypnosis should be included in the curriculum of medical schools. In addition, in 1960, the Association of American Psychologists officially acknowledged the therapeutic use of hypnosis by psychologists.

Individuals suffering from chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and PTSD have benefited from hypnosis. Psychotherapists have also successfully used hypnosis in the service of age regression and uncovering past traumas. Hypnosis teaches us that the words of a person who is perceived by the subject as having certain powers can change bodily movement ("Your arm feels light as a feather, let it rise towards the ceiling") or provide analgesia for painful procedures.


Chamberlain, David (1988). Babies Remember Birth. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P Tarcher.

Emoto, Masaru (2005). The Hidden Message in Water. Atria Books, New York, NY.

Holdevici, I. (2014). A brief introduction to the history and clinical use of hypnosis. Romanian Journal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Hypnosis, 1(1), 1-5.


Hypnosis and placebos have much in common. What is a placebo? A placebo is an inactive treatment, sometimes called a "sugar pill." A placebo may be a pill, tablet, injection, medical device, or suggestion. Whatever the form, placebos often look like the actual medical treatment being studied, except they do not contain the active medication. Using placebos in clinical trials helps scientists better understand whether a new medical treatment is safer and more effective than no treatment at all.

This is called the 'Placebo Effect.' The placebo effect describes any psychological or physical impact that placebo treatment has on an individual. Placebos have been shown to produce measurable physiological changes, such as increased heart rate or blood pressure. Placebos can reduce the symptoms of numerous conditions, including Parkinson's disease, depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic pain. In addition, researchers have repeatedly shown interventions such as "sham" acupuncture to be as effective as acupuncture. Sham acupuncture uses retractable needles that do not pierce the skin.

Placebo interventions vary in strength depending on many factors. For instance, an injection causes a more substantial placebo effect than a tablet. On the other hand, two tablets work better than one, capsules are more potent than tablets, and larger pills produce more significant reactions. One review of multiple studies found that even the color of pills made a difference to the placebo results.

The positive health benefit that a patient experiences in response to placebo are the symbols, rituals, and behaviors embedded in their clinical encounter. Part of the power of the placebo lies in the expectations of the individual taking them. These expectations can relate to the treatment, the substance, or the prescribing doctor. If these expectations are positive, the patient will respond positively to the placebo and vice versa.

This is very similar to hypnosis. The more the subject expects the hypnosis to work, the deeper they will enter a hypnotic trance. A person expecting a specific outcome such as pain relief, will by way of his mental operations, initiate a cascade of physiological responses (hormonal, immunological, etc.) that will cause effects similar to what a medication might have achieved.

This process of expectations extends right into our brains. By now, it has been well established that humans depend on our senses to perceive the world, ourselves, and each other. Yet, despite the senses being the only window to the outside world, people rarely question how faithfully they represent the external physical reality. During the last 20 years, neuroscience research has revealed that the cerebral cortex constantly generates predictions on what will happen next and that neurons in charge of sensory processing only encode the difference between our predictions and the actual reality.

A team of neuroscientists of TU Dresden headed by Katharina von Kriegstein presents new findings that show that the cerebral cortex and the entire auditory pathway represent sounds according to prior expectations. The Dresden group has found evidence that this process also dominates the brain's most primitive and evolutionary conserved parts. All that we perceive might be deeply contaminated by our subjective beliefs of the physical world.

Like hypnosis, placebos demonstrate the power the mind has over matter.