Placebos prove powerful…even when people know they're taking one

Posted on August 12, 2020

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.

Now, evidence shows that even if people are aware that their treatment is not “real” — known as nondeceptive placebos — believing that it can heal can lead to changes in how the brain reacts to emotional information.

“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.”

The new findings, published in the most recent edition of the journal Nature Communications, tested how effective nondeceptive placebos — or, when a person knows they are receiving a placebo — are for reducing emotional brain activity.

“Placebos are all about ‘mind over matter,” said Jason Moser, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at MSU. “Nondeceptive placebos were born so that you could possibly use them in routine practice. So rather than prescribing a host of medications to help a patient, you could give them a placebo, tell them it can help them and chances are — if they believe it can, then it will.”


Source material from Michigan State University


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