Real or fake – 5 fascinating facts about the placebo effect
Placebo treatments have no therapeutic value, but due to the mysterious nature of human psychology they can produce some clinically significant benefit. Why and how does it work? Let's learn the truth.
For a long time, most scientists believed that the placebo effect was mostly psychological. In other words, they thought that patients only persuaded themselves they were feeling better using the power of positive thinking.
But more recent research showed that placebo may have a significant physical effect as well. For example, when we take a placebo, our body releases endorphins, which may reduce pain and provide other healing effects. Of course, more research is needed to prove and evaluate the physical effects of "sugar pills".
During one of the experiments, people who were suffering from a burn injury were given a placebo, but only one third of them thought it was a working pill. The second group was told it was a placebo with no further explanation. The last group was given a 15-minute talk about how the placebo works and how it could help them relief the pain.
Those who knew the details (the last group) experienced similar pain relief as those who didn't know they were given a placebo, while the group that didn't know additional info about the pills didn't feel any better. This means that the placebo effect can still work even if the patient knows the truth, provided that they also understand the way placebo influences their system.
There is a significant amount of evidence that the placebo effect works on dogs, cats, rats, horses and other animals. In one of the studies, dogs who suffer from epilepsy demonstrated a decrease in seizure frequency after taking placebo. This not only proves that placebo can have significant physical effects, but also shows us that dogs possess even higher cognitive abilities than we expect.
Nocebo is based on the same psychological mechanisms as placebo. It occurs when a patient believes that the medication can have a negative side effect, and then experience this side effect, even if the medication was an inert substance.
According to the scientists, people care about shapes and colors a lot. Researchers have found out that yellow pills are better at treating depression, green pills are more effective when it comes to anxiety, and red ones make patients feel more alert and energetic. Pills with brand names on them also work better. All these things are also based on the placebo effect.
Have you ever experienced the placebo effect? Which fact from the article surprised you the most?
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