The Situationist

Archive for April 1st, 2007

January Fools’ Day

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 1, 2007


Today, the first day of April, instead of playing a trick on our readers to make them feel foolish, the Situationist Staff thought it would be more fun to make our readers feel foolish by reminding them of the resolutions many of them made only three months ago, but then to give them some good news about how they might fool themselves into to good health.

So, remember those resolutions?: diet, exercise, the usual. How did that work out? If you’re like most people who resolve to improve their physical health (and some of us have wisely scaled back or cut out that tradition), you’ve discovered again in 2007 that, although the New Year’s disposition may be strong, the situation is stronger.

For the good news, we’re pasting the press release from a fascinating study, by Alia Crum and renowned social psychologist Ellen Langer, that was published in February’s issue of Psychological Science. According to their study, our health may depend less than we suppose on changing our exercise habits and more than we suppose on changing our mindset toward our habits. There may be, in other words, a placebo effect associated with perceiving our day-to-day routines as exercise (for instance, these exhausting finger and knuckle presses that I’m currently doing on my keyboardacize device).

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The surgeon general recommends 30 minutes of daily exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle. While this may be harder for those who are required to sit behind a desk for eight hours, other jobs are inherently physical, like a hotel housekeeper. On average, they clean 15 rooms per day, each taking 20 to 30 minutes to complete. According to the study, the housekeepers might not perceive their job as exercise, but if their mind-set is shifted so that they become aware of the exercise they are getting, then health improvements would be expected to follow.

The researchers studied 84 female housekeepers from seven hotels. Women in 4 hotels were told that their regular work was enough exercise to meet the requirements for a healthy, active lifestyle, whereas the women in the other three hotels were told nothing. To determine if the placebo effect plays a role in the benefits of exercise, the researchers investigated whether subjects’ mind-set (in this case, their perceived levels of exercise) could inhibit or enhance the health benefits of exercise independent of any actual exercise.


Four weeks later, the researchers returned to assess any changes in the women’s health. They found that the women in the informed group had lost an average of 2 pounds, lowered their blood pressure by almost 10 percent, and were significantly healthier as measured by body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio. These changes were significantly higher than those reported in the control group and were especially remarkable given the time period of only four weeks.

Langer writes, “Whether the change in physiological health was brought about directly or indirectly, it is clear that health is significantly affected by mind-set.” This research shows the moderating role of mind-set and its ability to enhance health, which may have particular relevance for treating diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

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For a longer summary of their research, click here and here. For a draft of the paper itself, click here. It may be possible to obtain a copy of the article “Mind-Set Matters Exercise and the Placebo Effect,” by contacting Catherine West at

Posted in Life, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

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