In this essay, we pull together foundational research from the psychological, sociological, and medical sciences to illuminate the undeniable influence of the psychosocial context in constructing objective reality. From psychology, we review the growing body of research on how beliefs and expectations about common experiences (e.g., nutrition, stress, and aging) can fundamentally alter the impact of those experiences. From sociology, we review the role of social influence in constructing the quality and impact of cultural products and experiences. And from medicine, we review the neurological and physiological underpinnings of the placebo effect, a powerful demonstration of expectation and social context to produce physiological changes in the body. As we align evidence from these related — although currently disconnected — fields, we uncover important limitations from within each field of study and portray how an integrative approach can offer a more rich and comprehensive understanding of the phenomena underlying the social–psychological creation of reality. Combining foundational research with the interdisciplinary findings from our laboratory, we explore how psychological and social contexts can fundamentally alter the psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects of one of the most common human experiences: drinking water. To conclude, we present a series of questions and suggestions to assist and inspire further interdisciplinary collaboration. We offer a pathway for researchers to more frequently acknowledge, more thoroughly understand, and more effectively utilize the power of psychosocial influence to effect positive change in a number of disciplines including marketing, medicine, and public health.
Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, edited by