Study: The placebo effect works even when people know they are taking a placebo

Place­bos Prove Pow­er­ful, Even When Peo­ple Know They’re Tak­ing One, New Study Sug­gests (MSU release):

How much of a treat­ment is mind over mat­ter? It is well doc­u­ment­ed that peo­ple often feel bet­ter after tak­ing a treat­ment with­out active ingre­di­ents sim­ply because they believe it’s real — known as the place­bo effect.

A team of researchers from Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty, Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan and Dart­mouth Col­lege is the first to demon­strate that place­bos reduce brain mark­ers of emo­tion­al dis­tress even when peo­ple know they are tak­ing one.

Just think: What if some­one took a side-effect free sug­ar pill twice a day after going through a short con­vinc­ing video on the pow­er of place­bos and expe­ri­enced reduced stress as a result?”, said Dar­win Gue­var­ra, MSU post­doc­tor­al fel­low and the study’s lead author. “These results raise that possibility” …

To test non­de­cep­tive place­bos, the researchers showed two sep­a­rate groups of peo­ple a series of emo­tion­al images across two exper­i­ments. The non­de­cep­tive place­bo group mem­bers read about place­bo effects and were asked to inhale a saline solu­tion nasal spray. They were told that the nasal spray was a place­bo that con­tained no active ingre­di­ents but would help reduce their neg­a­tive feel­ings if they believed it would. The com­par­i­son con­trol group mem­bers also inhaled the same saline solu­tion spray, but were told that the spray improved the clar­i­ty of the phys­i­o­log­i­cal read­ings the researchers were recording.

The researchers are already fol­low­ing up on their data with a real-life non­de­cep­tive place­bo tri­al for COVID-19 stress.

About the Study:

Place­bos with­out decep­tion reduce self-report and neur­al mea­sures of emo­tion­al dis­tress (Nature Communications):

  • Abstract: Sev­er­al recent stud­ies sug­gest that place­bos admin­is­tered with­out decep­tion (i.e., non-decep­tive place­bos) can help peo­ple man­age a vari­ety of high­ly dis­tress­ing clin­i­cal dis­or­ders and non­clin­i­cal impair­ments. How­ev­er, whether non-decep­tive place­bos rep­re­sent gen­uine psy­chobi­o­log­i­cal effects is unknown. Here we address this issue by demon­strat­ing across two exper­i­ments that dur­ing a high­ly arous­ing neg­a­tive pic­ture view­ing task, non-decep­tive place­bos reduce both a self-report and neur­al mea­sure of emo­tion­al dis­tress, the late pos­i­tive poten­tial. These results show that non-decep­tive place­bo effects are not mere­ly a prod­uct of response bias. Addi­tion­al­ly, they pro­vide insight into the neur­al time course of non-decep­tive place­bo effects on emo­tion­al dis­tress and the psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms that explain how they function.

The Study in Context:


  1. Divakar Gopalkrishna Shanbhogue on August 28, 2020 at 2:15

    Yes. I have expe­ri­enced it. Pos­i­tive effect.

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