Expertise

How can we shape mindsets to improve our health, happiness, and well-being? Kari's research applies social-psychological insights to real-world problems. Her internationally-recognized work investigates how we can leverage mindsets to improve functioning in diverse settings, from improving healthcare to enjoying winter. By understanding and unpacking the psychological forces that influence our health, Kari's work brings us closer to leveraging these forces consistently, deliberately, and effectively. 

Mindset & the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Research

It's easy to think that medicine is pure biology, and that pills and procedures work based only on their active ingredients. This way of thinking about medicine isn't just outdated: it's wrong. It overlooks the fact that medications and treatments are always delivered in a social context, and that this context influences patients' mindsets about their health and their treatment. Compared to the billions of dollars spent developing new drugs, relatively little energy is spent utilizing psychological insights to improve patient outcomes. My doctoral research involves understanding and utilizing the power of mindset to improve healthcare experience and outcomes. My research is shedding light on the ways providers shape patient mindsets during the clinical encounter, how these mindsets influence important health outcomes, and how these forces can be harnessed deliberately to improve clinical care. 

Academic Articles
Media Articles
Media Coverage
Interviews

The Power of Placebo

Writing

Academic Articles

When we develop new drugs and treatments, their efficacy is tested against a placebo, which is meant to subtract out any "medically superfluous" forces of healing. However, in the practice of medicine, these same forces - which include the context set by the care team and patients' mindsets about treatment - can't be separated out. In fact, the effect of any treatment comes from a combination of the active ingredients of the treatment and the forces that underlie placebo effects. Further, research indicates that these forces themselves are powerful: the placebo effect produces meaningful clinical healing in 60-90% of all conditions. My work seeks to understand the psychological and social forces underlying placebo effects so that we can deliberately harness the power of placebos to boost the effects of drugs and treatments.

Media Articles
Media Coverage

Re-imagining Side Effects

Academic Article
Media Coverage

“When you’re having a symptom, it is actually meaning your body is fighting off peanuts,” said Greg, age 8, demonstrating a “symptoms as positive signals” mindset as a result of our intervention to improve oral immunotherapy (OIT). OIT treats food allergies: patients build tolerance by consuming their allergen, but children and parents worry that even non-life-threatening symptoms mean the treatment is going poorly. In this study, we presented some patients with a different mindset: that non-life-threatening symptoms are a sign the treatment is working and their bodies are building desensitization (which is true!). Greg and the others in this condition were less anxious, had fewer symptoms at larger doses, contacted staff less, and had increased biomarkers of tolerance compared to control patients. By re-imagining the mindsets providers create around non-life-threatening side effects, we can improve patients' ability to stick with treatments and make treatment more enjoyable.

Wintertime Mindset

How does one of the coldest, darkest places in the world have relatively low rates of wintertime depression? I set out to answer this question in my year as a Fulbright Scholar living in Tromsø, Norway. Tromsø is over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle - so far north that they experience a "Polar Night," the time from November-January during which the sun never rises. My research revealed that people’s mindsets in Tromsø help them experience winter differently. Where I saw hardship, they saw opportunity. A positive wintertime mindset was associated with every measure of well-being we examined, from life satisfaction to the tendency to pursue experiences that lead to personal growth. The lessons I learned in Tromsø have helped me identify and share concrete strategies that people can use to promote wintertime flourishing, no matter where they live. 

Academic Article
Media Articles

The Norwegian Town Where the Sun Doesn't Rise

The Atlantic

Media Coverage
Interviews
 
 
 
 

© 2019 by Kari A. Leibowitz