The secret ingredient is... nothing! You heard me. Nothing! There is no secret ingredient. Po:
Wait, wait... it's just plain old noodle soup? You don't add some kind of special sauce or something? Mr. Ping:
Don't have to. To make something special you just have to believe it's special. Po:
There is no secret ingredient...
Alice is given a supposed magic item that will give her special/exceptional abilities. She does amazingly well, but then she loses the item. She goes back to her mentors
, only to learn that it was just a useless placebo, and "the magic was inside you all along!
" Sometimes the audience knows, or at least suspects, that Alice's abilities were her own, but other times The Reveal
is just as much a surprise to them as to her.
In comic books, a retooled Super Hero Origin
sometimes shifts a character's gimmicky power from artifact-dependent to innate, with the revelation that the famous prop or incantation was simply a focus.
Supertrope to Placebotinum Effect
, and of course this is
the Placebo Effect
. It's also a neat way to subvert the Amulet of Concentrated Awesome
. May or may not be a character's Charm Point
. Somewhat of a Dead Horse Trope
in newer works (a common subversion is that the character throws away her 'feather,' only to discover that she needed it all along).
The key to this trope is in The Reveal, so examples where the feather is never shown to be bogus do not count. If the character (or the audience) believes the feather does nothing, but this is never put to the test, see Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane
Sister trope of All That Glitters
, Motivational Lie
, and The Presents Were Never from Santa
. Compare It's the Journey That Counts
. Not to be confused with Mario's flying cape item.
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- In this SSX 2012 commercial, a jaded snowboarder is given a sacred amulet that takes him on a crazy adventure. Afterwards:
Shaman: Bro, what are you talking about, man? I was just messing with you. I got this for like 35 cents at a garage sale. The real adventure - was in your heart all along.
- Back in the '90s, PBS ran fake ads for a product named Solvo, one version of which apparently gave you self-confidence (basketball player isn't sure he can make a game-winning basket); the other version helped you do research (student needs to know how many moons Jupiter has). The person uses Solvo as instructed and solves their problem, then asks:
Person: But what does Solvo do?
Narrator: Absolutely nothing. Solvo: the product you don't need to succeed.
- A '90s McDonalds campaign featured a boy given a magic soccer ball by Ronald McDonald. After learning to play well, he is surprised when the ball vanishes at the actual game. Ronald tells him "you can make your own magic."
Anime and Manga
- In a first-season episode of Ranma 1/2, Nabiki gives aspirin to Ryoga in the middle of his first on-screen challenge fight with Ranma, and tells him that they're basically instant steroids. Ryoga, who is not the sharpest spoon in the drawer, believes her and upon taking them gets a psychosomatic boost to his already-monstrous strength, allowing him to pull telephone poles from the ground simply because he thought he was on steroids (which don't even work that way).
- In a much later episode, Happosai, ticked off at Ranma interfering with his undie raids, takes Kuno and offers him "Speed of Light elixir", which he claims will make him super fast. It turns him into a Lethal Joke Character, even upgrading his Razor Wind attacks, but it's implicitly at least as much due to the Training from Hell Happosai put him through (running into occupied women's bathing areas, locker rooms, and other places where they were nude, while trying to evade their attacks and survive being beaten to a pulp). Said "elixir" is revealed to actually be tap water and the scrapings from under Happosai's fingernails.
- Subverted in the Vampire Princess Miyu episode "The Red Shoes". The titular shoes are given to Miyu's classmate Miho (a Shrinking Violet and aspiring Idol Singer) by her manager, and stated to magically make her an unparalleled singer. And they actually do just that. But they do so by sucking her Life Energy, and worse yet, once Miyu has defeated the Shinma who gave them to poor Miho, they can never be removed again. Miyu has to bite her friend and exchange blood with her in order to save her life. When last seen, Miho is physically better, but she's confined in an hospital.
- This episode is in reference to a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes, which is a semi-common reference in Japanese culture. The titular shoes are cursed and force the wearer to continue dancing forever, and cannot be removed — the dancer only stops dancing once she has a friendly knight chop off her feet — and the shoes, with the rotting feet, go dancing off into the wilderness on their own.
- At the end of Digimon Adventure when the Crests are destroyed by the final Big Bad, the kids need to figure out that the traits which powered their Digimon were part of them all along and they didn't need the Crests in the first place.
- This is a Dub-Induced Plot Hole, as the Japanese version implied that it was more that the kids had grown into the values associated with their Crests.
- Makes sense production-wise, though: the crest qualities thing came in the final episode of season one. In season two, the new characters needed to not be overshadowed by the old ones, so we get a flashback to an incident between seasons in which the "crest power within" had to be sacrificed. (A major Ass Pull; we never learn any more about that incident than the fact that the crest power had to be sacrificed.) This kept the season one cast from exceeding the season two cast's powers until the final arc demanded everybody at full strength. (Then for the final battle, the season one gang needed to be kicked back out of the Competence Zone, so when everyone runs toward the portal to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, the door closes after the 02 team gets through, leaving the original gang only able to watch from the sidelines.)
- Pretty much the most awesome example ever: in One Piece, for the Luffy vs. Foxy duel, Usopp hands Luffy a giant afro to give him strength...and then the entire crowd goes wild when he appears sporting it. And when he starts to show his Heroic Resolve, it was apparently because "THE AFRO POWER MADE HIM GO BERSERK!". In short, the Magic Feather that everybody (except Nami, but including Robin) believed. Even more confusing is that he effectively won because of the afro! Not because it was special, but just because it happened to catch a shard of a mirror that Luffy pulled out later.
- In GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class, innocent protagonist Kisaragi was conned into buying what she believed was "God's pencil" from an old lady at a stationary store. Using the pencil on her exams did help her get into the school, but that may have been more due to her practising like hell (enough to completely use up 20 of them) the day before. Either way she was still conned into buying old excess stock. Even after this fact is revealed, she still buys them, at least for sentimental value (since the granny died).
- The stuffed penguin used by Nodoka in Saki is obviously nothing but a psychological crutch to help her focus on her Mahjong playing.
- It's revealed towards the end of Fruits Basket that the head maid of the Sohma household tried to do this for Akito when her father died. She gave Akito a box and said that it held her father's soul. She only did it to console her (since Akito was extremely close to her father), figuring that Akito would eventually "grow up" and realize that the whole idea was silly. Instead, Akito clings to it for a decade, even if it's only because she hopes it's true; considering that she grew up surrounded by people who are possessed by Zodiac spirits, it wouldn't be that big of a stretch for her to believe in something like that, anyway. It turns into a regular Macguffin before the maid finally comes out and tells the truth. She doesn't take it too well.
- The lucky crystal necklace Chieri uses in The Cherry Project turns out to be this.
- Luke in Mon Colle Knights once went to find an axe of bravery that would remedy his shyness around his crush. He found it and got his courage during a desperate moment, then lost it the moment the crisis was over and he learned the axe was fake, and he returned to bumbling. In the end, he instead gets over his shyness by confessing, which required a crisis as big as the world ending.
- In Dragon Ball, the Sacred Water in Karin's Tower that Goku wants to drink supposedly gives one super strength, but when Taopaipai goes for it, Karin reveals that it's just regular tap water, and it was just Goku's exertion in climbing the tower and fighting Karin for the jug that made him stronger. He purposefully gives Tao the jug without any hassle and gives him a dark Nimbus for the trip down so that he doesn't become any stronger.
- Later on, he reveals that there really is a magic water. However, since it kills anyone who isn't a Determinator (and in the anime most people die before they even get that far), Karin doesn't keep it on display.
- InuYasha: Meidou Zangetsuha. Able to master any sword with a single swing or even without touching the blade, Sesshoumaru is finally stumped by Tenseiga's Meidou Zangetsuha which requires a compassionate heart to master instead of skill. Upon mastering it, he learns he's actually not allowed to keep it which sets up the revelation that he's possessed a sword of his very own all along, sleeping within his very soul waiting for the day when he was strong enough and compassionate enough to manifest it, a revelation that helps explain why he had such skill with a blade to begin with.
- Pokémon anime:
- Episode "The Fortune Hunters": When a fortune telling book says James is like Moltres, James' confidence skyrockets and he becomes a total Badass. When he is informed that fortune telling is just a scam, he turns into a loser again.
- Episode "True Blue Swablu": Max tricks an injured Swablu into thinking that the "magic powder" sprinkled on the Pokémon would help it to fly, except that the powder was actually just flour. Later turns into hilarity when Ash and Pikachu start believing in the stuff!
- Episode "Oh Do You Know the Poffin Plan!" Forsythia's shy Roserade can only fight when dressed as a superhero (with its face covered by a scarf). Meowth removes its scarf and it's captured by Team Rocket. Forsythia gives it a rousing speech, it realizes it doesn't need the scarf to be a hero and beats up Team Rocket.
- In the Sakura Wars OVA, Sakura Shingouji attempts to figure out the secret of her father's super special technique and refuses to join the special team she's been recruited to until she learns it. She goes through every possible way to read the scroll it's said to be on before realizing that there is no secret - everyone knows it and it is brought out in their own way.
- In both Azumanga Daioh and the manga version of Tenchi Muyo!, the cures for hiccups are used in two stories when the younger cast member (Chiyo-chan and Sasami, respectively) get a case of the hiccups. Tomo cures Chiyo-chan's by gut punching her, but they have to start over when Tomo gets the hiccups. Tenchi cures Sasami's by telling her he loves her (mostly because they all believed if she reached 100 hiccups, she'd die).
- In Soul Eater, a medicine that supposedly suppresses madness is given to all the good guys. Lord Death privately admits that there is no such medicine; it was to make everyone brave enough to confront the Kishin, who infects others with madness.
- In A Certain Magical Index, Awaki Musujime can teleport and points a flashlight at her intended destination. Misaki Shokohou has mental manipulation abilities and points a remote at her intended target. Neither of them actually need these items to use their powers, but they help them concentrate.
- In Murasakiiro No Qualia, Hatou's ability to communicate with infinite parallel universes was there all along. It was just that Yukari rebuilding her arm with a cellphone awakened said power.
- In Astérix in Britain, after losing their supplies of magic potion, Asterix finds some herbs that Getafix had given him earlier, and declares that he can make magic potion from them. He boils them up and gives a cup to each of the British fighters, and of course they defeat the Romans. The chief of the Britons reveals that he had guessed that it wasn't proper magic potion, but declares that he will make it their national drink anyway. It later emerges that the herbs were tea-leaves.
- The Molecule Man in Marvel Comics fits the super-power version; he was originally said to be able to control molecules with a wand, but was later said to have the power innately. Which fits his character, as Molecule Man's one weakness is he is a high school drop out with the power to rearrange atoms on the sub-atomic level. He has absolutely no clue as to how his powers work, because he doesn't know any of the science behind it. He also has major self-confidence issues and a variety of neuroses. He used to see a therapist. And this is one of the most powerful humans in the universe, folks...
- The Marvel UK character Captain Britain used a costume and staff which he believed was the source of his powers, but merely focused his innate powers (his daddy was from Another Dimension, so powers kinda run in the family). Later, he was able to do without.
- The Flash once managed to nick Mr. Element's gun, only to find it useless. The bemused Element explained that the gun only focused his powers — it wasn't the source of them. We've recently learned that the Weather Wizard's powers are also innate, a fact which he himself didn't know (he thought his Weather Wand had the power— and so did
his original the last five decades worth of writers, apparently).
- Though, in Weather Wizard's case, it is at least implied that his power wasn't originally innate. Rather, repeated use of his Weather Wand caused him to internalize its power years ago. He never realized this because he actually did need the thing originally and therefore never tried to use the powers without it until more or less forced to.
- The first Morlun story in Spider-Man had Ezekiel, another man with spider-based powers, explain to Spidey that he didn't get his powers due to the fact that the spider that bit him was radioactive, but that the spider gave Peter superpowers magically and was nearly killed by the radiation in the process. This retcon has since been re-retconned away again.
- Large swathes of the DC Comics universe were retconned with the metagene. Basically, random chemical spills or a radiation zap or looking into the core of an alien warp engine -doesn't- give you superpowers. The metagene, present in most humans, instead does an Instant Evolution bit to save you from the dangers. In short, most people do get crispyfried when zapped with the experimental magic ray.
- New Spider-Man villain The Extremist was originally thought by our web-headed hero to get his powers from his fancy gun, but it's soon revealed that the power is innately in him and he just uses the gun to help him focus it.
- Similarly, loony supervillain Madcap uses a bubble gun that makes people lose all inhibitions...except the power is actually tied to his gaze, and he just uses the bubble gun as a distraction to get people to look at him.
- In an 80s Daredevil story, DD's mentor Stick reveals that the radiation that gave Matt Murdock his superhumanly acute senses (and also blinded him) had a temporary effect—but that temporary boost taught Murdock to use his normal human senses to their full potential. (Alas, the blindness wasn't temporary. Sorry!)
- Sleepwalker's Friendly Enemy Spectra's rainbow-like energy powers were originally assumed to come from the synthetic diamond she wielded. She later reveals that her body has actually absorbed the powers of the diamond, and she only uses the crystal to help her focus her powers.
- Minor Marvel Universe hero Blue Shield originally needed a micro-circuitry belt to power his super-strength, stamina, and force field projection powers. Eventually the belt altered his genetic structure so he no longer required it.
- The Smurfs: In The Olympic Smurfs, Papa Smurf gives to the puny Weakly Smurf a reddish doping jelly to put on his nose, in order to help him compete in the Olympic Games. When he eventually wins, he is about to confess his cheating, but it turns out that the substance was only raspberry jelly, and that Weakly smurf owes his victory only to his newly-acquired self-confidence.
- Some writers have stated that Zatanna's speaking spells backwards routine is just a focusing technique and that she can cast spells without using it (she uses this justification when she takes down the supervillain Magenta while gagged in an issue of Wonder Woman, for instance). However, current canon says the backwards words are necessary, but they need not be spoken (writing them will work, for instance).
- Depending on the Writer Johnny and Jesse Quick. They recite a formula that describes a 4 dimensional construct while trying to picture said construct in order to trigger their super speed. Turns out its just a crutch to access the Speed Force.
Film — Animated
- The Trope Namer is Dumbo and, of course, its magic crow feather which was claimed that it could make Dumbo fly. Naturally, during the climax, Dumbo discovers that he was able to fly even without the feather.
- Happens in the second Ice Age movie, to an extent: Diego, the saber-toothed tiger, has a fear of water, but he needs to swim to save his friend. Said friend told him earlier that "Most animals can swim as babies," and he uses this to go after him. Once saved, the friend tells him baby tigers can't swim; he left that part out.
- The Dragon Scroll from Kung Fu Panda is stated to grant infinite strength and wisdom to the reader, but turns out to be blank and covered with a golden-colored, reflective material to show the reader that they already have all that's needed to become the Dragon Warrior.
- From the same, Po's father has a special soup with a secret ingredient. He later reveals to Po, there is no secret ingredient. People think there is, so it tastes extra special to them. This is what allows Po to understand what the Dragon Scroll means.
- In addition to his other flaws, Tai Lung could not become the Dragon Warrior because of his Inferiority Superiority Complex. He needed outside validation. As a result, Tai Lung could not grasp the Scroll's message even after Po told him what it meant.
- Parodied in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Princess Mindy turns SpongeBob and Patrick into "men" with seaweed mustaches with her "mermaid magic", or so she claims, which are then ripped off later by the villain. In typical manner, they still manage to make it through.
- In Space Jam, Bugs gives the Toon Squad Michael Jordan's "Secret Stuff," which he claims will give them the skill needed to take down the Monstars. Jordan later reveals that it was just plain water, and that the confidence boost allowed the Toon Squad to unleash what was already inside the all along.
Film — Live Action
- The Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan movie Space Jam, where Bugs offers his team-mates a bottle filled with "Michael's Secret Stuff" (really just tap water) to help them win the big game.
- The remake of Angels in the Outfield has this too, with the whole crowd at an Angels baseball game making wing flapping gestures to help their pitcher make a strikeout, without the divine intervention they've been relying on these past few months.
- This is a variation, as it turns out that even though they had the ability to win the whole time, they actually had been receiving help.
- During the climactic battle between Dark Helmet and Lone Starr in Spaceballs, Helmet manages to steal Lone Starr's magic Schwartz ring and throw it down a vent. Fortunately, Starr's mentor Yogurt reveals in a telepathic message "The ring was bupkis! I found it in a box of Cracker Jacks! The Schwartz is in you, Lone Starr, it's in you!"
- In the over-the-top blaxploitation/martial arts parody film The Last Dragon, the "magic amulet" that Bruce Leroy's Trickster Mentor gave him when he began his "great quest" turns out to be a belt buckle.
- It's more than that, when Leroy discovers that the master Sum Dum Goy doesn't even exist, and that The Master he's been searching for is Leroy himself.
- Jack Putter (played by Martin Short) in the film Innerspace believes that Tuck Pendleton (who has been shrunk and is inside Putter's body — long story) can increase the power of his muscles during a confrontation with an evil henchman. He can't, but that doesn't stop Jack kicking his ass.
- Slight variation in the film Hitch, where the title character eventually comes to realize that he himself is a Magic Feather - he gave clients advice on how to woo their dream girls, and his success rate is very high, but ultimately his advice didn't matter and the ladies all fell for the guys because of things they did naturally, in some cases completely contrary to Hitch's advice. All Hitch really gave them was the confidence to make the first move by believing that with Hitch's help, they actually had a chance.
- Pootie Tang: Pootie's magical belt is eventually revealed to be a completely non-magical item purchased from a Piggly Wiggly for 95 cents.
- Austin Powers:The Spy Who Shagged Me: When his mojo is stolen, Austin is rendered impotent. Aside from his erectile dysfunction, he also believes he cannot defeat Dr. Evil without it. However, in the end, he saves the world, defeats Dr. Evil, and wins Felicity's love without his mojo. In the end credits, Austin is confirmed to have his mojo back when he sees his past self shagging Felicity.
- In the Harold Lloyd film, Grandma's Boy (No, not that one.) his grandmother gives him an artifact of great power (complete with a flashback of his grandfather using it to become a One-Man Army during the Civil War). Using the artifact, he single handedly captures the big scary guy who had been terrorizing the town. Then his grandmother reveals that it was actually the handle off her umbrella.
- Played with at the end of Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, when the club owner gives his "the Devil is in all of us" speech, convincing Kage and JB not to worry about the pick breaking. Of course, immediately after we discover the club owner is actually Satan, and just wanted the pick to complete himself.
- Used on a large scale in Kingdom of Heaven, where, in response to the Patriarch of Jerusalem asking him how he plans on defending the city with no knights, Balian of Ibilin immediately knights every peasant and commoner within the sound of his voice.
Patriarch of Jerusalem: [almost crying] "Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?"
Balian of Ibelin: (looks around him and notes the newly determined faces on the brand new knights) "Yes."
- In The Luck of the Irish, the protagonist's grandfather (a leprechaun) is watching the protagonist and his Black Best Friend play basketball against an evil leprechaun. A large part of the plot involves the protagonist losing his lucky coin (stolen by the Big Bad), with his family suffering bad luck since then. At the game, the grandfather sees that their team is losing and throws his grandson's friend a coin, claiming it's lucky. The guy's game immediately improves. The protagonist confronts his grandfather, as he knows the coin is fake. The grandfather invokes this trope, causing the protagonist to realize that he can make his own luck without relying on some coin. Subverted in that the stolen coin is really magical.
- Inverted in the Inspector Gadget movie where Gadget requires a computer chip in order for his cyborg body to function. However, after the chip is taken out and smashed by Claw, it turns out that he can still operate without it.
- Jax's enhanced arms prove to be this in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and Sonya even tells him straight out that he has a confidence problem. Only by regaining his confidence and ditching the arms is he able to defeat Motaro and help Sonya against the others in the final battle.
- Played dangerously straight in Crash when a character gives his daughter (who is afraid of bullets after a stray one found its way through her bedroom window) an "impenetrable cloak given to him by a fairy". She believes it so much that she runs into his arms to shield him from a man who has him at gunpoint. But in an ironic and heart-touching parallel placebo-effect situation, the shooter's daughter has loaded the gun with blanks (she was afraid he'd accidentally shoot himself).
- In Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, the protagonist's transformation into a metal monster is shown to have been caused by an injection with a serum. It's later revealed that an object in his pocket prevented the serum from being injected into him. His transformation was caused by his own anger.
- Spider-Man uses this trick to save a kid in The Amazing Spider-Man. He needs the kid to climb up out of a burning car so he can get him to safety, but the kid is too scared. So Spidey unmasks and gives it to the kid, claiming it will "make him strong". It works.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Tia Dalma gives Jack an artifact after learning that the Kraken is after him. It is heavily implied that this jar of dirt does absolutely nothing, and is just a placebo for Jack to feel safer.
Jack: Is the jar of dirt going to... help?
Tia Dalma: If you don't want it, give it back.
Jack: No! *clutches the jar tighter*
Tia Dalma: Then it helps.
- In Days Of Thunder, Cole is angry after a fouled pit stop places him in poor track position. Harry tells him that during that stop they put perfectly matched and balanced tires on his race car and that it will help him overtake the leader. Cole wins the race. Then during the post-race interview Harry admits that there wasn't anything different about the tires, but he had to tell Cole something to get him to calm down and focus on driving.
- In Bull Durham, there's Annie encouraging Nuke to wear garters to help him play better. Discussed by Crash later in the movie:
Crash: If you think you're winning because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you're wearing women's underwear, then you are!
- In X-Men: First Class, the chest blaster device helps Havok control his energy blasts, but eventually it gets damaged. He eventually gains enough control over it to aim his uncontrolled blasts effectively, clipping Angel's wings with them.
Live Action TV
- In Mage: The Ascension, characters need to focus their magick through various means, but sufficiently high-level characters will realize that the magick comes from them and can cast spells without foci with no penalty. At this point, the mage starts becoming obscenely powerful and even Werewolves and centuries-old Vampires keep their distance.
- Mutants & Masterminds has a villainous version: Dr Stratos thought he needed his big fancy device to control the weather, until he learned it had been junk all along. He immediately went A God Am I.
- Inverted in the RWBY episode "Forever Fall, part 2". Jaune Arc believes he killed a giant Ursa with nothing but his own skill, but he was secretly receiving magical help from Pyrrha in the background. The rest of the group decide not to tell him.
- Although Pyrrha only helped with one aspect of the battle: moving Jaune's shield into place. If she hadn't done that, Jaune would still have killed the Ursa, but he would have also died, thus zigazagging the trope.
- One strip from Dinosaur Comics has it all go wrong.
- Cheshire Crossing plays this straight with Dorothy's ruby slippers; however, the slippers do possess some intrinsic power, since other characters can use them normally.
- And this intrinsic power is actually the power to mimic the abilities of the last person to wear them.
- Parodied in the Bandwith Theater internet short entitled Kevin Smith and his Magic Feather. When Kevin Smith bemoans losing his magic feather to his friend Helpful Rat, he assures him that the feather wasn't magic at all, it just helped him to believe in himself. When Kevin then goes on to contemplate shaving his magic beard, Helpful Rat quickly assures him that the beard actually is magic: it makes his wife love him, and keeps the moon from falling. (But it doesn't help with movies; it's just the wife and moon thing.)
- In PVP, Brent Sienna gives up coffee for health reasons. When the magazine is in crisis and desperately needs help, he insists on going back to coffee to give him his "edge." After his all-nighter, his girlfriend reveals that she has been bringing him decaf.
- In Angel Moxie, when Alex's staff was broken, she seemingly lost her magic. Miya tells that staff is only act like focus to get her started, while saying how cliched it is.
- Parodied in The Non-Adventures of Wonderella. "See, this is why I don't do pep talks."
- At least for Marten initially, the Worry Hat.
- It gets passed on to Hannelore later on.
- The Order of the Stick of course needs to make use of this trope, albeit rather late and in a very heart moving manner. It is not much of a secret to anyone but the person receiving the feather, though.
- It's unclear whether the jester outfit that Maytag wears in Flipside actually causes her to become incredibly outgoing and self-confident, but if it doesn't, it's likely to be this trope.
- Events seem to be heading this way, with Maytag able to go on with her comedy act despite being magically stripped by a rival at the start of it. After a moment's hesitation, she even manages to joke about her situation.
- This◊ Erfworld page heavily implies that Thinkamancy, and to an extent Foolamancy work this way
- Another parody, this time by Cyanide and Happiness.
- The players use various focusing devices before they can fully control their powers. This isn't outrightly stated, but by comparing Aradia's shift from using time-controlling music boxes to freezing Bec Noir in place with her mind, it becomes obvious. Some characters just jump this hurdle entirely though. It's heavily implied that John was supposed to obtain a flute to teach him how to use his windy thing, and that Rose had a similar sidequest involving "learning how to play the rain", a statement which never gets defined.
- A slightly more sinister example is Rose's wands. Doc Scratch suggests that the real power was given directly to Rose by the horrorterrors and that the wands are a way to make her think she's working alone while actually doing their bidding.
- Another theory is that Rose wasn't given the power directly from the Horrorterrors, but instead inverted her Aspect, Light, which usually symbolizes knowledge. Sburb being Sburb, deviating from your fate doesn't tend to end too well for you, as showcased by Rose.
- Amazing Super Powers shows a case of overdoing this.
- Inverted in Girl Genius. Gil isn't convinced that his super-awesome perpetually-inflammed hat gives him any divine authority whatsoever; it's literally a dunce cap on fire. The rest of the crowd treat it like he's wearing a giant king's crown on fire. Except one guy, who gets filed for promotion by Gil for having common sense. Basically, the hat makes him think less of himself (why is everyone willing to bow down and worship a prince who wears a jester's crown — OH WAIT.), but almost all the non-regular cast are awed by it.
- Also inverted in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic. "The failure was in you all along!"
- The Smurfs: The same "doping jelly" plot as in The Olympic Smurfs was carried over in an episode of the Hanna-Barbera animated series, where it is used on Weakly Smurf to make him stop thinking he really is weak. He ends up saving the village from a collapsing bridge during a storm and being crowned a hero as a result.
- Played straight in the most recent Jonny Quest series, where one episode had Hadji's ruby (the one in his turban, which was supposedly a magic charm from his mentor in mysticism) turn out to be red glass.
- Subverted in three different episodes of Futurama:
- "The 30% Iron Chef": After Bender wins a cooking competition using drops from a crystal flask filled with "the essence of pure flavor", Professor Farnsworth runs a chemical analysis and announces the mystery liquid is "Water! Ordinary water!" Immediately after Fry concludes that all Bender needed to cook well was confidence, the professor adds, "Yes, ordinary water, laced with nothing more than a few spoonfuls of LSD."
- "I Second That Emotion", in which Bender is given the emotion chip, so that he feels what Leela feels. At the end of the episode, after Bender saved Nibbler due to his feeling compassion for him, the Professor removes the chip and says "the chip shorted out! That emotion you felt was your own...no, wait, I'm wrong. It was actually running at triple capacity." Bender responds "And I still barely felt anything! Good night, losers!"
- "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings": Fry loses the robot hands that allowed him to play the holophoner so well. Dr. Zoidberg shouts, "The beauty was in your heart, not your hands!" Fry attempts to continue playing, but does horribly. Dr. Zoidberg shouts, "Your music is bad, and you should feel bad!" Played with in that when Fry turns to leave, Leela (the only remaining audience member) asks him to play anyway. Though he needed the robot hands to play well, he still had the ability to win the affection of Leela (which is what he wanted in the first place) even without them.
- South Park do this in the episode "Bloody Mary." Randy Marsh is diagnosed as an alcoholic, and is convinced it is a disease that only God can cure. He then goes to a bleeding statue of Mary to cure himself, and it works. However, the Pope reveals the miraculous statue to be fake/having its period, and Randy falls back into alcoholism until his son points out that these events show he has what it takes to beat the addiction himself.
- This seems to be the case with the Super Sauce that Super Chicken (who appeared in the George of the Jungle cartoon) supposedly used to fuel his powers; it was highly implied that the sauce, which his assistant Fred made, was just a placebo that helped the hero use his natural powers.
- The Simpsons subverts this to the extreme in the episode Last Tap Dance in Springfield. In it, Lisa is part of a Shirley Temple Expy's tapdancing class, but is extremely clumsy. Professor Frink offers to help out by putting the motors from a sound-activated dancing toy in her shoes. At the recital, she does dance well, but the tremendous applause causes her to do things like Wall Run and even outdance her teacher. After the recital:
- Regular Show subverts this trope. Mordecai and Rigby, trying to form a rock band, are visited by their future selves who promise to make them successful. Their future selves teach their present selves about dancing and fashion, but neglect to teach them how to actually play their instruments. Right before it's time for the present M&R to play their first gig, the future M&R show up with magic guitar picks, and miraculously, the gig begins successfully. In the middle of the song, however, present Mordecai realizes that, while it wasn't the magic guitar picks, it wasn't their natural talent either; the microphones and electric guitars were unplugged, and the pre-recorded song was playing in the background.
- An interesting subversion occurs in an episode of Kim Possible, in which the titular heroine uses an intelligent driving computer to pass a driving test. When something goes wrong, the computer can't control the car anymore, and Kim needs to drive the car she and Ron are in out of the villain's lair, she protests she can't drive, and the computer tells her that it never did anything - it was her all along. Kim, inspired, drives the car out of the collapsing lair, whereupon the computer tells her it lied - the computer had been doing the driving before, but needed to inspire her.
- Done a second time when Kim feels like she's lost her mojo when her signature costume gets shredded and is discontinued. However it was subverted in that it was less those specific clothes as having a distinct set of mission clothes, and with the help of some criminal fashion designers she's soon back to her ass-kicking ways.
- Played straight in the Powerpuff Girls episode "Cover Up" with Buttercup and a security blanket. Buttercup needs to be thoroughly convinced she can fight without the blankie after it's misplaced. Once she is, she gives it up and the girls' father Professor Utonium snatches it up claiming it had recently helped him create his newest invention.
- Played straight in one episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983). After Adam is taken hostage by Skeletor, leaving only Orko and Cringer able to get his sword to him, Cringer seems the best one to try (seeing that, if he manages, he would have the best benefit, being able to become Battle-Cat when Adam turns into He-Man. In order to get the well-known Lovable Coward to even try, Orko gives him a supposed magical amulet that he claims gives the wearer bravery, and it actually works, letting Cringer even get past a ghost in a dark part of the dungeons of Snake Mountain. At the end of the story, after Cringer's mission succeeds, he finds he lost the amulet, but Orko tells him it was just a piece of junk anyway.
- Used in an episode of ThunderCats, when the mind-controlling villain Alluro acquires an amulet in a box that is supposed to ramp up powers. He then proceeds to easily mesmerize all the heroes except for Snarf, who manages to get the box away from him, and then defeat him, even using the powers of the Sword of Omens, which had previously only activated for its proper wielder. At the end, naturally, Snarf realizes he never bothered to open the box to see what the amulet looked like, and when does does open it, it's revealed that the amulet inside has been broken for some time. Probably a good thing nobody told the bad guy.
- In the ThunderCats (2011) episode "The Duelist and the Drifter", Master Swordsman The duelist challenges The Hero Lion-O to a Sword Fight, wagering their swords and Lion-O loses. The Ultimate Blacksmith that made the Duelist's sword makes another one for Lion-O and a rematch takes place. The Duelist loses despite Lion-O's new sword being broken in half and ends up being humiliated by the blacksmith. The blacksmith explains that the duelist's sword took years to be forged and the new one took just a few hours, so Lion-O had it in himself to defeat the Duelist the whole time.
- Used several times in episodes of the children's animation Dragon Tales.
- Ord believes that he can only do aerial tricks with a lucky stone, but, upon unknowingly losing said stone, still is able to do the tricks. It turns out as expected.
- In a slight variation on the trope, Ord is afraid of a thunder storm until given a cape, which he uses to pretend he's a super hero, causing him to no longer be afraid of the thunder.
- In another slight variation of this trope, Cassie goes to the wishing well to wish for a talent for the talent show. In order to convince the jaded wishing well to help, Cassie helps the wishing well and promises to be her friend. Then Cassie realizes that she already has a talent; helping people. A bit Anvilicious, but still cute.
- In a fourth season story of Franklin, Bear is having trouble at basketball, so Franklin gives him a clover that he tells him is a "lucky" four-leaf clover. Not only do Bear's basketball skills improve, but other lucky things happen to him and he think it's all due to the clover, not knowing that it's really just a regular clover with an extra leaf taped to it. As Bear's luck starts to go to his head, he starts making risky moves and Franklin decides he has to tell him the truth. As soon as he does, Bear experiences a crippling lack of confidence, until Franklin reminds him that it wasn't really a real clover, so all of his luck was his own.
- In a first season story of Arthur, Arthur believes that he has a "lucky pencil" that helps him do well on tests. He seems to realize eventually that he did well because he studied, though that doesn't stop him from whining loudly when D.W. tries to claim the pencil for her own. The story of the pencil became the basis for a song on the original Arthur music album, Arthur And Friends: The First Almost Real Not Live CD.
- On Shelldon, an episode featured a series of flashbacks showing Mayor Yoko giving members of the community trinkets that he claimed were magic, but were really just Magic Feathers. When the community was threatened by an impending catastrophe, Shelldon and his friends traveled to his office to try to get some of his magic, and discovered the truth.
- In "Follow Your Nose," a Very Special Episode of PB&J Otter, Jelly's "Super Jellina Cape of Fearlessness" helped her to be less afraid of the dark.
- An episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh had Christopher Robin give Piglet a pair of "magical earmuffs" so that he could ice skate. Piglet loses the earmuffs, and believes that he cannot skate without them...until his friends are in danger. Naturally, Piglet saves the day, even without the "magic."
- On Wonder Showzen, Chauncey chugs a vial of pure liquid imagination and becomes addicted. Later, the revelation that it was regular tap water all along instantly cures him.
- On Xavier: Renegade Angel, when Xavier's mother demands he bring her pills and alcohol, he gives her placebos and apple juice. Years later, her life has spiraled into ruin and she laments her addictions, so Xavier reveals that she'd been using harmless substances all along. She promptly loses her mind.
- Storm Hawks played with this
- That's more of a subversion in that one would build up muscle using it, anyway (since the item in question is really heavy).
- Also due to the fact that they stop your wrists from hurting after punching metal.
- A unique version was used in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command when XR's Black Sheep brother XL attacked him and stole a component from him called an AFD, which was believed to be the most important part of XR. Naturally, XR felt that without it, he was useless. In the end, however, it was revealed that the AFD was merely an Air Freshening Device and that what XR had in him that made him great was not in a robotic sense.
- In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Splinter performs an impressive feat of magic with three tiny white spheres, shrinking three inflated turtles back to normal. He explains the spheres were given to him by a wise Sensei for use in an emergency, but they aren't made of anything magical:
Michelangelo: Oh, that's awesome stuff! What are those things, Sensei?
Splinter: I believe they are commonly called...mothballs.
Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael: Mothballs?!
Splinter: You were expecting diamonds?
Donatello: But how could they shrink us back to normal?
Splinter: If someone believes in something strongly enough, it just might happen.
Donatello: Yeah, but...with mothballs?
Raphael: Hey! Don't look a gift moth in the mouth!
- In Rekkit Rabbit, Rekkit gives Jake some magical help that makes him a genius (with a giant head) to win a competition. He then loses the effects of the magic, but Rekkit says there WAS no magic and he really IS that smart. So he goes on with the competition... and basically just drools and blabs incoherently. After failing, Rekkit says that unfortunately there really was magic.
- The 'magic' boardshorts in the Stoked! episode "Boardy Brotherhood".
- In Rugrats, Chuckie is outfitted with a super hero "costume" by the other babies, including a towel-for-a-cape, saying that it would give him super powers and be a real hero. However, when he loses the cape and still defeats Angelica, who had stolen away his globe beach ball, the babies realize it was all in him.
- Cow and Chicken: Cow had a security blanket until she grew tired of the taunts and threw it away. She later told Chicken that blanket was Supercow's cape and source of power. Overhearing this, Red Guy started hurting the other kids under the belief no superhero would stop him. Chicken then recovered the blanket and tried to use it on himself and become "Wonder Wattle" but Red easily defeated him. Chicken tried to convince Cow it meant she had the power all along but she points out he just has the cape backwards and flips it making Chicken become Wonder Wattle for real.
- She Ra Princess Of Power: Sorrowful the Dragon (in the episode The Laughing Dragon) is given a necklace of roses that She-ra tells him will give him courage. He then proceeds to open a can of whoopass on the Horde. When he finds out that the flowers weren't really magical, he faints.
- Casper the Friendly Ghost was given one from Dr. Harvey for a school play.
- The Terrytoons Dinky Duck cartoon Sink or Swim (1952) has an owl give Dinky a "skyhook" (a stick with a hooked branchlet) to help him swim.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force: In the episode Dumber Days, Meatwad discovers what he thought was his brain is only a cat toy. Frylock tells Meatwad he is giving him a new brain, and after the brain is implanted Meatwad gains an interest in science and can do incredible feats of telekinesis. Later, Frylock reveals that the "brain" he put into Meatwad is the same cat toy with macaroni and glitter glued to it, and Meatwad subsequently reverts to his old "dumb" self.
- In the Hello Kitty's Furry Tale Theater episode "Cat Wars", a spoof of Star Wars, the Luke Skywalker expy is given a fur coat he believes allows him to access his powers. Naturally, he loses the coat, but realizes he doesn't need it and defeats the Darth Vader expy.
- An episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh had Piglet being given a pair of "magic earmuffs" to help him skate. He eventually realizes he doesn't need them when he uses his skating skills to save his friends from going off a waterfall.
- One episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes had Heloise give Jimmy a squid to put on his head to get super strength. At the end when the squid is knocked off his head mid-fight, a hologram of Heloise tells him that "it was never the squid-the power was in you all along."
- Season 5 of Archer has Krieger inject a "mind control chip" into Cheryl's brain, so that she can overcome her stage fright and become country singing sensation Cherlene like she wanted all along. At the end of the season, Krieger reveals it was just the sticker off of a Lego spaceman... that he still injected into her brain.
Cheryl: So you mean all this time, all I had to do was believe in myself? And get a sticker in my brain?
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Leap of Faith", the Flim-Flam Brothers sell a supposedly miracle cure-all tonic that is really just ordinary juice. The elderly Granny Smith takes it and surprisingly becomes agile and energetic again. Applejack exposes the con and saves Granny from killing herself doing a reckless stunt because she thought the tonic made her invincible. They realize Granny's belief in herself was what gave her strength, allowing her to still play with the others without having to take the tonic.
- Placebos can cause people to be less troubled by the subjective symptoms of an ailment, even though they do nothing to treat the actual cause of the symptoms (unless the cause is also psychosomatic, in which case they can cure it perfectly). Thus they can help treat some mental illnesses, such as depression (indeed, for mild to moderate depression, placebos are as effective as actual antidepressants - meaning that actual antidepressants for such people effectively ARE placebos), as well as reduce the perception of pain, but they can't cure cancer or kill pathogens.
- All medical studies require the use of placebos as a point of comparison, to determine whether or not the treatment in question has a benefit beyond the placebo effect. The most extreme version of this is sham surgery, where a surgery is performed without the actual medically necessary part of it occurring, to ensure that a surgical treatment is actually effective; several procedures have failed this test.
- Interestingly, placebos still have a minor effect even if the patient knows that they got a fake treatment, though they are at their most efficacious if they do not, in most cases.
- Doctors frequently prescribe placebos, and patients frequently ask for them, desiring some sort of treatment for whatever ails them. The most common form of prescribed placebo is antibiotics prescribed for viral infections, which is extremely bad, as it can lead to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Many patients don't care, simply wanting some sort of magical pill to treat them.
- Sometimes doctors will actually prescribe placebos, such as Obecalp and Cebocalp, which are just sugar pills. This sometimes enrages patients who later discover they've been given placebos, even though frequently they're prescribed as a means of putting off someone who wants to be given something.
- Almost everything which isn't an essential nutrient which is marketed as a dietary supplement does nothing - if they actually DID do something, they'd be regulated by the FDA as a drug. Even vitamins and various minerals are frequently used as such by people who believe that taking large amounts of vitamins will make them healthier.
- Some people drink distilled water, believing that the extra pure water is better for them. Ironically, extremely pure water is actually somewhat dangerous to drink, because it is so lacking in ions it can draw them out of your body into your digestive tract.
- Many cures for stage fright or other performance-related issues, as well as artistic remedies: things that get the creative juices flowing.
- It's not uncommon for parents to provide a Magic Feather to their children to overcome their apprehension or self doubt about a particular activity.
- There are loads of hiccup cures of the "drink from the wrong side of the cup", "hold your breath and take 7 sips of water" variety that are all just tricks to make you control your breathing.
- There was a psychology experiment where people were given three coloured buttons and asked to figure out what pattern made a light come on. In fact the 'pattern' was just press the blue button then press it again five seconds later (doesn't matter what you do in between). People found some very complicated ways of filling those five seconds.