The 'Nocebo' effect or Eletrophobia

    return to Viewpoints

“The ‘Nocebo’ effect or Electrophobia is irrelevant to real EHS”

Eletrosensitivity and Electrophobia are different conditions

Some pro-wireless activists, like the minority group influential in the WHO and the ICNIRP, like to pretend that all instances of EHS are actually psychological. They invalidly hypothesise that EHS symptoms not caused by EM exposure, but are instead caused by Electrophobia, the fear of electromagnetic exposure, induced by a ‘Nocebo’ effect, whereby fear induces symptoms. This deliberate confusion of two distinct conditions is invalid.


Electrosensitivity is where a real electromagnetic exposure causes real or physical symptoms. This has been established convincingly and consistently in the medical literature since the 1960s. It is most easily shown in the peer-reviewed studies on areas like:

  • Sensitivity to magnetic fields near MRI scanners by a few people walking or running through them.
  • Sensitivity to geomagnetic disturbances, whether according to the 11-year solar cycle and similar phenomena or in the Aurora Disturbance Sensitivity.
  • Sensitivity to non-thermal electromagnetic warfare, as used by increasing numbers of countries since the 1950s, where people affected exhibit typical electrosensitivity symptoms.
  • Sensitivity to electromagnetic exposure near cellphone towers, where 80% of studies show electrosensitivity symptoms among people living near them.
  • Sensitivity to electromagnetic exposure from cellphones, where almost 100% of studies show electrosensitivity symptoms among teenagers using cellphones extensively or more than most other young adults.

Electrophobia or the ‘Nocebo’ effect
Electrophobia is a psychological phenomenon caused by fear of the harm from electromagnetic exposure. Just as sham pills as well as real medicines may help some people to recover from illness (the ‘Placebo’ effect), so some people can experience painful symptoms when they expect harm, whether the event is sham or real (the ‘Nocebo’ effect). Any fear, whether of fire, heights, poisons, wild animals, drugs or medical procedures, can have similar effects, while advertising would not work unless humans could be consciously or subconsciously conditioned or persuaded. Some similar ‘Nocebo’ effects used to be called ‘mass psychogenic illness’ or ‘hysteria’, but they typically affected large numbers of people simultaneously, not the individuals usually affected by EHS where a particular human body reaches overload as regards its autonomic nervous system from a particular additional EM exposure.

The ‘Nocebo’ effect: requires previous conditioning
This ‘Nocebo’ effect has always existed, of course. An expectation of harm has always been able to harm some people. Those who regard horror films as visual jokes do not experience the same intensity of fear as those who internalise their involvement with the characters.

The ‘Nocebo’ effect cannot apply if there is no previous conditioning
In all cases of the ‘Nocebo’ effect, prior cognitive conditioning is required. If someone does not know that a situation or substance is supposed to cause harm, whether true or not, they cannot attribute their subsequent symptoms to their prior knowledge. The ‘Nocebo’ effect, therefore, cannot explain all the real symptoms from toxic environmental exposures like electromagnetic radiation if the subject has not been warned beforehand. If they are ignorant of the danger, as most EHS sufferers originally were, then the ‘Nocebo’ effect can have no part in their symptoms. The ‘Nocebo’ effect comes into play only after they have experienced harm or been told of harm.

The difficulty of measuring the ‘Nocebo’ effect after experience of harm and conditioning
It is difficult or impossible to measure the Nocebo effect in comparison with a real harmful exposure.

  • Similar molecular pathways: The ‘Nocebo’ effect requires the subject to anticipate harm. The very process of anticipating harm involves some of the same biological pathways, such as opioids, as the experience of real harm itself.
  • Feedback mechanisms: These two aspects, real and psychological, are also inter-related by feedback mechanisms, so that the body can become physically and mentally conditioned to expect harm and thus experience certain symptoms from the stimulus of real harm or the perception of real harm. This proves nothing about symptoms from a real external stimulus since it is impossible to determine whether either source is the sole source.
  • Psychological effects of test conditions: It is almost impossible to control for these psychological factors if the subject is aware that he/she is undergoing a test. If they are not aware, then the test is usually futile or totally subjective since they have no anticipation of harm which can be easily measured.
  • Unethical factors: Some ‘Nocebo’ provocation tests are ethically questionable since they require telling a subject a lie.
    (a) If the subject knows that they may experience a lie, or has done so in the past in a similar test situation, the process is invalidated since the reaction may be to the perception of the test situation and not the content.
    (b) If a ‘Nocebo’ provocation test does not involve a lie, it does no more than confirm the ‘Nocebo’ effect and says nothing about the individual subject’s reactivity to real exposures.
  • Problems of real or sham conditioning: A provocation test using conscious psychological responses cannot measure whether the ‘Nocebo’ effect is involved, even if the test is negative, since it is impossible to determine the reason for the responses when the subject may have already been conditioned by previous tests, including perceptions of both real and sham exposures, both of which may have led to conditioning of some neural pathways.

The ‘Nocebo’ effect is irrelevant to four categories of real EHS symptoms
A significant proportion of cases of electrosensitivity symptoms are logically irrelevant to the ‘Nocebo’ effect. Since the ‘Nocebo’ effect cannot provide an explanation in these cases, it shows that the ‘Nocebo’ effect is irrelevant to many real EHS symptoms. Four relevant categories are as follows.

  1. Adults who are unaware of potential harm from electromagnetic exposure cannot have a prior cognitive conception of harm. Since this is the case for perhaps most adults who only subsequently discover the cause of their symptoms, it shows that the ‘Nocebo’ effect cannot play a part in their initial EHS sensitization and is therefore irrelevant to the initial EHS symptoms.
  2. Only once adults have realised the potential for harm from real exposure can the ‘Nocebo’ effect have any relevance, but by then the conditioning will have started to take effect, as explained above, so it becomes impossible to determine the original cause after the initial kindling. Any symptoms could be caused by a wide variety of events, such as (i) real exposure, (ii) conditioning caused by real exposure, (iii) conditioning caused by cognitive influences, and (iv) conditioning caused by  mixture of real exposure and cognitive influences.
  3. Increasing numbers of children are becoming sensitised to electromagnetic exposure. For most of them there is no likelihood of prior cognitive conditioning. This renders the ‘Nocebo’ hypothesis invalid.
  4. Some animals are also especially sensitive to electromagnetic exposure. Again, there is no likelihood of prior cognitive conditioning, only real physical conditioning. This also renders the ‘Nocebo’ hypothesis invalid.

The ‘Nocebo’ effect, or Electrophobia, is therefore essentially a separate condition as regards EHS symptoms. Nevertheless there is a capacity for overlap for both non-sensitives and sensitives, both of whom can be influenced or conditioned by sham and real testing situations. These tests on their own, however, are unable to prove the actual original cause of their sensitivity.

The ‘Nocebo’ effect can be cured with CBT, but Electrosenstivity requires medical intervention or EM avoidance
Like any result of cognitive conditioning, people with electrophobia can be cured by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This does not work for people with electrosensitivity, since this needs either total EM avoidance, to allow the body to repair itself naturally, or the re-adjustment to the autonomic nervous system, mitochondrial support, nerve damage rectification such as for demyelination, DNA damage repair, blood-brain barrier enhancement etc. Established medical protocols for treating EHS, like the Austrian Medical Association, follow the latter approach, not CBT.

Screening needed for real EHS subjects
What is needed is objective, subconscious, measurements to screen who is actually EHS. Most subjective conscious provocation tests have been unscreened so prove nothing.
“One appalling example is the Hillert 2008 study that had symptom group (often claimed to be EHS) where more than 50% used a mobile phone in everyday life over 40 minutes a day and used it on average more than the “non symptom group”. So from the start up the study showed the opposite of what is claimed: the more you use a mobile phone the more you have symptoms as headache.” (Mona Nilsson, July 19 2015). The need to differentiate between real EHS sufferers and those affected by a ‘Nocebo’ effect is similarly evident in food studies. Here up to 20% of the population claim certain intolerances, perhaps partly through the ‘Nocebo’ effect, yet medical tests show that many of them are not real, although some 2% are genuine and actually caused by a real exposure to the food. Testing for and diagnosis of EHS is now relatively straightforward. As the classification published by the international Nordic Council of Ministers in 2000, like any environmental toxin, sensitivity can be shown when symptoms occur only from real exposure but cease when the exposure stops. In addition a range of molecular and biological markers can differentiate those who have real EHS (see reports on the international expert conference on EHS in Brussels in May 2015).

The ‘Nocebo’ effect theory requires epigenetic effects for established molecular, cellular, neural and DNA changes caused by EM exposure
If all electromagnetic sensitivity symptoms are not real but the result of the ‘Nocebo’ effect, then all other established EM exposure results, such as oxidative stress, DNA breaks, melatonin reduction, microwave hearing, cardiovascular effects, blood-brain barrier leakage etc are also the result of the ‘Nocebo’ effect. This is possible if fear can cause epigenetic effects and such epigenetic effects can have an immediate effect down to the molecular and cellular level, but there are no studies so far in the medical and scientific literature to show that this is the case for EHS symptoms.