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Placebos and Behaviour Change – Rory Sutherland

Why should aspirin be expensive? Why are branded analgesics more effective? The psychologist Nicholas Humphrey argues that placebos work by prompting the body to invest more of its limited resources in recovery. He believes that human immune systems evolved for an environment much harsher than the one we are currently living in, so we have evolved capabilities to ‘trick’ our unconscious into believing the conditions for recovery are much more favourable for our immune system to work at full tilt.

The ministrations of doctors (witch or NHS), exotic potions (homeopathic or antibiotic), or the caring presence of relatives and friends can all create this benign illusion. Yet policymakers hate the idea of any solution which involves unconscious processes. If you suggested that the NHS invest more in elaborate drugs packaging, they’d have conniptions.

Too little is spent researching the placebo effect in proportion to its importance. Why is this?

In this talk, Ogilvy Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland will explore how we can hack the amazing power of placebos for changing behaviour; both on a personal, and societal level.

Reading Recommendations:

  • Sutherland, R (2019) Alchemy, 1st edn., London: WH Allen.
  • Rory Sutherland (2019) Alchemy, 1st edn., London: WH Allen.
  • Miller, G (2010) Spent, London: Penguin.
  • Miller, G (2001) The Mating Mind, London: Vintage.
  • Taleb, N (2007) Fooled By Randomness, London: Penguin.
  • Beinhocker, E (2007) The Origins of Wealth, London: Random House.
  • Ariely, D (2009) Predictably Irrational, New York: Harper.
  • Kay, J (2011) Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly, London: Profile Books

Rory Sutherland - The Weekend University

Rory Sutherland is the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy in the UK, and the co-founder of a behavioral science practice within the agency. He works with a consulting practice of psychology graduates who look for ‘unseen opportunities’ in consumer behaviour – these are the very small contextual changes which can have enormous effects on the decisions people make – for instance tripling the sales rate of a call centre by adding just a few sentences to the script.

Before founding Ogilvy’s behavioral science practice, Rory was a copywriter and creative director at Ogilvy for over 20 years, having joined as a graduate trainee in 1988. He has variously been President of the IPA, Chair of the Judges for the Direct Jury at Cannes, and has spoken at TED Global. He writes regular columns for the Spectator, Market Leader and Impact, and also occasional pieces for Wired. He is the author of two books: The Wiki Man, available on Amazon at prices between £1.96 and £2,345.54, depending on whether the algorithm is having a bad day, and Alchemy, The surprising Power of Ideas which don’t make Sense, which was published in the UK and US in March 2019.

Rory is married to a vicar and has twin daughters of 17. He lives in the former home of Napoleon III – unfortunately in the attic. He is a trustee of the Benjamin Franklin House in London and of Rochester Cathedral.

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2020-05-29T16:38:30+01:00 May 29th, 2020|Talks|

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