Jan. 29, 2013
The Placebo Effect: How Strong Is The Power of Suggestion?
For years, scientists have sought to find an explanation for the placebo effect. Although many hypotheses exist, there is no one reason defining why or how the placebos work. Some researchers argue that the phenomenon doesn't even occur; that the placebo effect is merely random error and that any improvement said to be caused by a placebo is simply a spontaneous recovery in the patient's condition (2)(3). Other scientists argue that Pavlovian conditioning supports an explanation for the effect: If patients have previously shown improvement from being in a medical setting or from taking medicine, they are conditioned to experience positive effects every time they are in the same situation (1). A second explanation for the placebo effect is that any drug (or placebo) given to a patient will reduce their stress levels. Because many illnesses begin under high-stress circumstances, or exhibit more extreme symptoms under stressful situations, many of the patient's symptoms are likely to improve (2)(4). The first question that must be answered before delving into the hypotheses behind the placebo effect is whether or not the phenomenon even exists. Certain physicians and scientists claim that "positive effects" of a placebo are, in actuality, just the body's natural ways of healing itself and the immune system's defenses kicking in soon after the placebo is taken (2). Basically, these researchers argue that improvement in a patient's condition after being administered a placebo is merely a coincidence. Negative effects that are often blamed on placebos are viewed by these researches in the same way: nausea or headaches that are claimed to be a placebo's side effects may be spontaneously occurring symptoms (3). It has been established that colds, nausea, headaches and flus will indeed go away eventually; regardless of whether we take drugs or...
References: 1) Placebo Effect: The Power of the Sugar Pill
2) Scientific American; All In The Mind by W. Wayt Gibbs
4) The New York Times Magazine; The Placebo Prescription by Margaret Talbot
5) Hospital Practice; Harnessing The Placebo Effect by Miroslav Backonja and Walter A. Brown
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