How Placebos Work

It's amazing that a sugar pill can sometimes "fix" an ailment. Placebos are often prescribed, and sometimes to great therapeutic effect. Sometimes the simple act of believing you're going to get better can actually make you get better. Though the placebo throws a physician's honesty into question, many patients make lasting improvements with its aid.

Recent posts on Placebo

Stanford Researchers Identify Life-changing Power of Mindset

Mindset plays a surprisingly significant role in our health and longevity, according to a new study from Stanford University.

New Research Explains Why Some of Us Really Hate to Exercise

A new study suggests that shifting rigid mindsets and stereotypes about what it means to be "athletic" may be the secret to making moderate-intensity exercise actually feel good.

27 Facts About the Best Ways to Treat Depression

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on June 30, 2017 in Think, Act, Be
Depression is a common and highly impairing condition that often requires professional treatment. Find out what the research shows about what works and what doesn't.

Do You Need Drugs for Your "Chemical Imbalance"?

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on June 22, 2017 in Think, Act, Be
Research reveals some surprising news about the role of serotonin in depression—and suggests millions of Americans taking drugs for depression would do just as well on placebo.

Cannabis for Kids: Can Marijuana Treat Childhood Seizures?

By Joe Pierre M.D. on June 21, 2017 in Psych Unseen
Smoking marijuana may not be helpful for seizures, but new research suggests that cannabidiol may be.

The Gambler's Fallacy in Research

Clinical research differs from patient care in its goals and priorities. How are the two different and what are the gambler's fallacy and therapeutic misconception?
Public domain

The Healing Power of Placebos: Fact or Fiction?

By Joe Pierre M.D. on May 25, 2017 in Psych Unseen
Does new research really prove that placebos don't require deception?

When Friends Believe Nonsense

By Temma Ehrenfeld on May 19, 2017 in Open Gently
Do you discourage your loved ones' silly medical treatments?

A Little Bit of Magic Please

If science were a man, I would marry him, even though I’d know of his imperfections. However, we all benefit from a bit of magic....

Is Prescribing a Placebo the Same as Lying?

By Joseph A. Shrand M.D. on April 18, 2017 in The I-M Approach
Is it ever OK to lie? The placebo response is well known. But prescribing a placebo borders on unethical in our age of informed consent. But are placebos happening all the time?

New Drug Valbenazine Approved by FDA for Tardive Dyskinesia

By Joe Pierre M.D. on April 13, 2017 in Psych Unseen
What is tardive dyskinesia and who should take this new medication?

Why are Females Prone to Mass Hysteria?

By Robert Bartholomew Ph.D. on March 31, 2017 in It's Catching
Mass hysteria is an overwhelmingly female condition. But why?

Prestige, Power, and Placebos

Intuitive errors and social pressures often fool us into the wrong decisions. But our social minds also possess untapped healing power. Recent research shows us how to use it!

Expectations and Cancer: Does How We Think Matter?

By Anne Moyer Ph.D. on January 16, 2017 in Beyond Treatment
Expectations have the potential to influence the experience of cancer, for worse and for better.

How Testosterone Affects What Men Find Attractive

By Robert Burriss Ph.D. on December 21, 2016 in Attraction, Evolved
Testosterone, the male hormone, has well-known effects on muscle growth and competitiveness. But can it also affect how men perceive women's faces?

Your World Is Full of Placebo Buttons

By Nir Eyal on November 08, 2016 in Automatic You
Many buttons and controls you use every day do absolutely nothing but make you feel better. Why is that a good thing?

Suggestible You

By The Book Brigade on November 03, 2016 in The Author Speaks
The power of suggestion lies behind the enigmatic placebo response, but it also plays a big role in your everyday life.

Do You Believe in Magic?

By Temma Ehrenfeld on October 26, 2016 in Open Gently
Don't fall for quack cures like homeopathy.

No, Placebo Response Rates Are Not on the Rise

By Peter D Kramer on October 13, 2016 in In Practice
New research finds that placebo responses are not on the rise in antidepressant trials—a result that suggests the impact of placebo has been exagerated

Why Doctors See Antidepressant Effects That Researchers Miss

By Peter D Kramer on September 22, 2016 in In Practice
Trust drug trials and mistrust clinical observation? Sometimes doctors know best—while researchers are blind to factors that help depressed patients recover.

"Cloudy with a Chance of Pain" Embodies Citizen Science

By Christopher Bergland on September 07, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
A groundbreaking initiative in the UK is using smartphone technology and citizen science to identify whether damp and gray weather really does cause stiffness in your joints

Add a Dose of Skepticism to Whatever You Believe

A finely honed doubt is as beautiful as a deeply held belief.

Many Commonly Used Drugs Are Useless

By Allen J Frances M.D. on August 07, 2016 in Saving Normal
Drug company marketing muscle can turn useless meds into financial blockbusters.

Stronger Drugs, Stronger Placebos

By Peter D Kramer on July 19, 2016 in In Practice
New research is elucidating the biological underpinnings of the placebo response. The results might enhance our appreciation of real—inherently effective—medications.

Favorable Trajectories

By Peter D Kramer on May 27, 2016 in In Practice
How distinctive are antidepressants? Answers from research that looks at progress made by individual patients.

Antidepressants Work, But Only For Really Depressed People

By Allen J Frances M.D. on May 07, 2016 in Saving Normal
People who don't really need antidepressant are taking far too many, while those who desperately do need them are not getting nearly enough.

Mindfulness Meditation Provides Pain Relief Without Opioids

Meditation offers a drug-free alternative for coping with pain. A study released today reports that mindfulness meditation triggers pain relief without engaging opioid receptors.

Revisiting the Placebo Effect

What do placebo effects reveal about the mind-body connection? Do our bodies have the capacity to self-heal?

Transhumanism Movement Wants to Eliminate Existential Risk

By Zoltan Istvan on March 12, 2016 in The Transhumanist Philosopher
As a 2016 US Presidential candidate, it amazes me that more attention is not dedicated to overcoming existential risk by the very thing humans are good at: innovating.

Do Vitamins Have Placebo Effects?

By Nigel Barber Ph.D. on February 11, 2016 in The Human Beast
After years of hearing that vitamin supplementation was protective of health, we are now hearing that they are a waste of money for people with an adequate diet.