Is there a word for the psychological effect of thinking that something is happening and thus feeling the effects of that thing yet nothing is really happening?

An example would be when you get falsely diagnosed with some sort of illness and feel the effects of this illness even though you don't actually have the illness.

I was thinking of calling it "placebo effect", but I think that applies only to being given "medicines" that don't do anything and you feel better due to the way your brain works.


7 Answers 7


Feeling imaginary symptoms is a kind of delusion.


2 [UNCOUNTABLE] MEDICAL a mental condition in which you believe things that are not true


Such a condition is a psychogenic disease.

psychogenic [sahy-kuh-jen-ik] adjective Psychology. having origin in the mind or in a mental condition or process: a psychogenic disorder.

From dictionary.com

EDIT (by third party):

As m69 points out in a comment below, the word psychosomatic is often used to refer to physical symptoms with psychogenic components. From the Wikipedia article on Psychosomatic medicine:

Psychiatry traditionally distinguishes between psychosomatic disorders, disorders in which mental factors play a significant role in the development, expression, or resolution of a physical illness, and somatoform disorders, disorders in which mental factors are the sole cause of a physical illness.

Thus, somatoform disorder describes the condition of physical symptoms arising from purely psychological origins. This has been known in prior years as a somatization disorder.

  • 5
    Psychogenic implies that there is actually something physically wrong with you, albeit of psychological origin. If you're just imagining symptoms, I think "psychosomatic" better describes it.
    – user221615
    Jul 16, 2017 at 15:59
  • @Darren Ringer: You could have posted that as a separate answer (ideally linking back to this one). Jul 16, 2017 at 21:57
  • 1
    Psychosomatic is close but don't think it quite hits it. It includes real physical symptoms like going blind with a psychological origin. These are things that are not imagined but are actually happening.
    – hg786t76g
    Jul 17, 2017 at 6:00

The word would be illusory.

Definition of illusory (taken from Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

: based on or producing illusion : deceptive illusory hopes


In a general non-medical sense, perhaps reification fits:

[T]he error of treating something that is not concrete, such as an idea, as a concrete thing.


Hallucination -- Cambridge

(noun) an experience in which you see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist, usually because you are ill or have taken a drug:

A high temperature can cause hallucinations.
auditory/olfactory hallucinations

Hallucinate -- Cambridge

(verb) to seem to see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist, usually because you are ill or have taken a drug:

Mental disorders, drug use, and hypnosis can all cause people to hallucinate.


suggestible: Dictionary.com has an entry

sug-gest-i-ble in Medicine

Readily influenced by suggestion.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary

Dictionary.com has several definitions for suggestion, of which the most pertinent for the OP and this answer is:

  1. Psychology. a. the process of inducing a thought, sensation, or action in receptive person without using persuasion and without giving rise to reflection in the recipient

b. the thought, sensation, or action induced in this way.

This applies directly to the OP's example of a person falsely diagnosed feeling the symptoms of an illness he does not have. It could also be used of a person who is uncritical about what he hears, reads or sees.

John is so suggestible; he believes everything he sees on TV.


I think we could say "nocebo effect". It can be used for medecine, treatment or psychological effect.

  • My answer is right for medical subjects, but your question is larger. I would look for "self-defeating prophecy" or "self-fullfilling prophecy". Jul 16, 2017 at 14:11
  • A placebo effect means that you think something works, when in reality it doesn't do anything. A nocebo effect means that you think something isn't working, even though it is. By those definitions, "placebo effect" is more appropriate than "nocebo effect".
    – Flater
    Jul 17, 2017 at 10:55

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