Mindfulness Pills: NASA Ames Research Park 19Jul2011


I did a presentation on my self experiment with mood-tracking and self-administered placebos using Proteus technology. My script/notes are uploaded as well (click “Speaker Notes” by the comments tab to read along!)

There is more detailed information on my blog:

I can’t wait to hear your questions/comments!

Thought-provoking slides, thanks for sharing!

What are some of the most surprising studies you’re aware of that show placebo effects even when people were aware they were subjected to a placebo intervention?

Also, the pill in your slides had a small chip tacked on them. Was that an actual chip that the subject would ingest?

I imagine others could do such experiments on themselves using tic-tacs (or m&ms) without needing Proteus chips. Is that right?

I loved your project Nancy! I had an idea for creating a website that sells tea (or flavored mints, etc) that you can customize. For example, I can buy mint tea and label it Focus, or chamomile and label it Relax. I pick the flavors that I already know I’d like or what it tastes like, but it’s shipped to me without the flavor label, only the Goal label. It makes it a little more realistic, and would probably encourage me to drink tea more :slight_smile:

Thanks Dan!

The study I was looking at that showed the effectiveness of placebos when labeled as placebos was done on IBS patients:

When I was doing my experiment, I was using “placebos” with that tiny chip on them- when I ingested the placebo, the chip would activate in my stomach and send an identification signal to a patch I was wearing, timestamping when I took it and which emotion pill it was. I have a summary of the technology here:

Yes, definitely- its a great place to start! In fact, one of the inspirations for my experiment was a quick study we did with friends and family members where we gave them tic tacs labeled “willpower”. Tic tacs also work nicely because of the color choices- which apparently is a factor in the effectiveness of placebos! Check out this Wired article:

My theory is that using tic tacs or M&Ms is a good way to get basic “mindfulness” down- it urges you to analyze your emotional state or the challenges your facing, and puts you in the mindset of “I can control how I approach and feel about this” by giving you an “aid” to activate your emotional control “powers”. The medical ritual of ingestion seems to be a powerful way to make us believe that we’re being “enhanced.”

The nice thing about adding the technology is the ability to record and track your emotions and biometrics together, allowing for extensions and feedback.

I still definitely need to explore and research the roots of the positive effects I felt during my experiment; I’m also working on designing a longer-term follow-up integrating the ideas of habit design and perhaps some social components. I’m always open to discussion!

Thanks for the post! :slight_smile:


Hi Chloe!

That’s a great idea! Someone was just telling me the other day that they’ve seen flavored drinks labeled with “power ups” like calm, focus, etc… and that he would buy them when he thought he needed that power-up, even though he knew it was mostly hokey! It would be even MORE powerful if you could back up the claim even just the slightest bit (like your idea of chamomile for calm, or using different vitamins for other “power ups”)- the slightest bit of belief can go such a long way!

Also, just having a tea to drink to make you pause and think about what internal strength you need to call upon can be quite powerful (like I mentioned in my reply to Rajiv’s post)- it sounds like something worth trying out yourself at least! And you’re right- worst case scenario, you get some extra anti-oxidants in your diet :slight_smile:

I love the idea. You could have a collection of small glass jars on your desk, filled with TicTacs, or more decadently Jelly Bellys, to help you get into a more appropriate frame-of-mind when needed.[hr]

What emotions and biometrics were you tracking? And how were you tracking these; which were using the Proteus chip and which were you doing manually?

Tracked by the Proteus system (pill + patch)
I was tracking 4 emotions:

  1. Sadness (happiness pill!)
  2. Helplessness in the face of a task (willpower pill!)
  3. Scattered/overwhelmed (focus pill!)
  4. Anger or stress (calmness pill!)
    (These were tracked automatically when I took the corresponding pill.)
  5. Activity
  6. Sleep length
  7. Heart rate (with a data point every 10 minutes)
  8. Temperature (not very accurate, but enough to aid in sleep and activity algorithms)

Other tools I was using:

  1. My google calendar (work meetings, activities, etc)
  2. Withings scale

I’m horrible at sticking to manual tracking schemes (one of the reasons I was itching to be a hardware developer for a biometric tracking system :stuck_out_tongue: ), so I didn’t do any manual tracking :slight_smile:

I’m also looking at redesigning and carrying out a longer experiment, hopefully adding some new components (habit design techniques, a social element, etc)- let me know if you have any ideas that you think would be cool or fun to try!

I see how you can make the simple leap — if the system records the fact that you have taken the happiness pill, then it means that you were feeling sad at the time. Did you consider adding more nuance, by taking multiple pills: for example taking 3 happiness pills to indicate that you were feeling very sad? Or perhaps that level of detail is not so important.

Also, what does it mean that these data were “tracked automatically when I took the corresponding pill?” For example you may have taken a happiness pill in the morning; how will that connect to sleep length? Is it that a pill takes X hours to make its way through the body, and as long as the pill is in the body it continues to send data to the patch?