Bood, Sundequist, Kjellgren, Nordstrom, and Norlander sought to examine the effects of attention-placebo on flotation tank therapy. Different relaxation techniques lead to specific psychological and physiological changes labeled the ‘relaxation response’ (RR). The RR is associated with physiological markers of reduced sympathetic nervous system activity and metabolism, as well as lowered heart rate, blood pressure respiratory rate. At the psychological level, people experience genuine rest, recovery, better sleep quality, less need for alcohol and psychoactive medications, as well as an increased sense of control in stressful situations. In order to stimulate the RR, the relaxation technique must (1) reduce sensory input and (2) reduce bodily movement.
Flotation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (flotation-REST) both reduces sensory input and reduces bodily movement to an extreme nature. Recent research indicates that such an RR can be obtained with flotation-REST and results in “increased well-being and relaxation, mild euphoria, greater production of ideas, increased originality, improved sleep at night, reduced stress, tension and anxiety, reduced pain, fewer headaches, lowered blood pressure and decreased muscle tension”, (Bood, Sundequist, Kjellgren, Nordstrom, and Norlander, 2005).
These researchers value the tracking of various placebos, so sought to evaluate the effects of attention-placebo in flotation-REST. They attempted to create various levels of the placebo effects of expectation and attention to evaluate their effect on the results of flotation-REST. The environments were manipulated in four settings with various scenery or lack thereof and different engagement of the person directing the participants. One setting had a group of former hallucinogenic users, one a group of ‘ordinary’ people, another had a strict setting of little interaction and visual stimulation, and the fourth had fantasy scenery that was suggestive of what one might visualize during their experience.
Regardless of the manipulation, “no significant differences were found between the conditions” ((Bood, Sundequist, Kjellgren, Nordstrom, and Norlander, 2005). The conclusion was that neither the environment or user’s prior experience had negligible or no effect on the outcome of flotation-REST. These led the researchers to believe that flotation-REST is likely not susceptible to placebo effects. This would indicate that the positive outcomes of the experience are genuine and true improvements on one’s physiological and psychological health.
In order to further track the understanding of the attention-placebo in patients with work-stress related pain associated with burnout and depression, two groups were compared: burnout diagnoses versus no burnout diagnoses. The study also tracked three different aspects of pain, assessing the breadth of the area of pain, the number of areas of pain, and the different types of pain. This allowed them to provide a more encompassing picture of patients’ problems and recovery with flotation-REST.
There were many positive effects recorded for the various patients but they were not affected by the level of attention-placebo. Measuring the various aspects of pain revealed a significant, beneficial reduction of all as a result of the flotation tank therapy and that this reduction of pain appears to be independent of the level of attention-placebo. The added aspect of burnout depression versus no burnout depression also revealed there to be no influence from attention-placebo. These results indicate that the treatment and not the environment or the patient condition determined the outcome was an improved wellness. This means that flotation-REST is a reliable treatment for pain, stress, and overall well-being.
Bood, S. A., Sundequist, U., Kjellgren, A., Nordstrom, G., Norlander, T. (2005). Effects of flotation-restricted environmental stimulation technique on stress-related muscle pain: What makes the difference in therapy – attention-placebo or the relaxation response. Pain Res Manage Vol 10 No 4 Winter 2005. Pulsus Group Inc.