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Thread: What if you know about the placebo effect?

  1. #1 What if you know about the placebo effect? 
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    I'm unsure whether this belongs in this (Behavior and Psychology) section, or the Health & Medicine section. But there's nothing medicinal about this so I guess it belongs here..?

    I suddenly thought of a problem regarding the placebo effect.

    Here is the situation (made up, not real):

    I'm down with an illness. My parents give me a pill and tells me it's medicine for my illness. I take it.
    Now here comes the problem. I am aware of the placebo effect. So I think, is this pill a real pill or is it a placebo?

    What would happen? Would the placebo effect take place?

    What if it's a placebo, and I secretly suspect it's a placebo? Will it work?

    What if it's real, but I keep thinking it's a placebo? Will it work?

    Does it come down to whether the pill or our mind is stronger? How do we even measure that?

    Am I the only one being confused about this?


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  3. #2  
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    There are several good items on placebo at Respectful Insolence.

    I picked this one because it's a good overview of several important(ish) studies.

    Still more oversold placebo research from our old friend Ted Kaptchuk – Respectful Insolence

    The biggest issue is that it apparently makes little difference whether you do know that the medication is a placebo. You can still get placebo effects. The mind is, apparently, stronger for many people. Most important of all, it depends on what effect you're looking for. Read the section on the asthma study in that post for details. There are some conditions where you don't want a strong placebo effect - because it really is only in the mind. Fantastic for pain, not so good for things like asthma or high blood pressure.


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  4. #3  
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    Quote Originally Posted by EugeneT View Post
    My parents give me a pill and tells me it's medicine for my illness. I take it.
    Now here comes the problem. I am aware of the placebo effect. So I think, is this pill a real pill or is it a placebo?...
    What if it's a placebo, and I secretly suspect it's a placebo?....

    What if it's real, but I keep thinking it's a placebo? Will it work?
    Part of the placebo effect is the white coat the doctor wears. So do you trust your parents or not?
    Even if the "Medicine" is just chicken soup and sympathy it will still make you feel better if it is delivered properly.
    Last edited by dan hunter; March 12th, 2014 at 02:46 PM. Reason: missing ket replaced
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  5. #4  
    Malignant Pimple shlunka's Avatar
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    Let's do a test. We'll give someone the definition of placebo, and someone a wrong definition of placebo. Then we'll give them a set of medication and a placebo, and see which one works.
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  6. #5  
    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Placebo explanations?
    I like it.
    "[Dywyddyr] makes a grumpy bastard like me seem like a happy go lucky scamp" - PhDemon
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  7. #6  
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    Quote Originally Posted by shlunka View Post
    Let's do a test. We'll give someone the definition of placebo, and someone a wrong definition of placebo. Then we'll give them a set of medication and a placebo, and see which one works.
    Even better, set up a group of doctors to give their patients placebo and tell the doctors it is a placebo, another group to give a placebo but tell them it is real, a group to give a real medicine but tell them it is pacebo, one more group giving real medicine and told it is real and finally one group told the medicine might work or not work and give them a mixture of placebos and reals.
    Then see if the results indicate the placebo effect works more strongly on the doctors than it does the patients.
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  8. #7  
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    Best yet. Set up seven groups of doctors to give their three groups of patients placebos and tell half the doctors of three groups and one-third of the doctors of four groups it is a placebo, another group of six patients will give placebos to other groups of patients and doctors but tell them it is real, maybe, and a group to give a real medicine but tell them it is placebo if on Friday, one more group giving un-real medicines and one group given a completely wrong (but not lethal) medicine and told it is real and finally one group told the medicine might work or not work and give them a mixture of placebos and reals. Then, after the results are collated and randomized for several weeks, see if the results indicate the placebo effect works more strongly on the doctors than it does the patients. One test group will be given lethal doses of cyanide and told it is a placebo and watched to see if any survive -- mind over pills.

    (Studied under Professor Corey)
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  9. #8  
    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    I wonder if there's a market for placebo doctors 1?
    Just give some random person a stethoscope and a white coat, let them talk to a patient for 5 minutes, then scribble something illegible on a scratch pad before saying "Just leave it for week, if it gets worse come back. Otherwise, there's nothing to worry about".

    (And yes, I'm being only semi-facetious here).

    1 I mean "official" placebo doctors, not self-appointed nutcases peddling quack remedies.
    Last edited by Dywyddyr; March 2nd, 2014 at 02:47 PM.
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  10. #9  
    Forum Masters Degree LuciDreaming's Avatar
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    I've been trying to find a paper I found a while back about the efficacy of placebo's even when the person knows they are taking a placebo. I don't remember the exact results as compared to people taking the real drug but they found the efficacy between those taking a placebo without knowing and those taking it with knowing was the same. The researchers put this down to the fact that the belief that taking a pill will cure the ailment is so ingrained in Western thinking that telling someone its a useless pill doesn't override the effect.

    I'll have another look for it tomorrow because it was an interesting study with a lot of participants and a variety of ailments.
    "And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh" Nietzsche.
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  11. #10  
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    I always thought a placebo was supposed to work because the person taking the placebo was an apparent ill person and by giving them a pill (which they believe, although unaware of placebo ) will help them.

    Mind over matter could be the term.... they fall in to the belief or a sense of security but, what about the malady itself? is the mind that incredible that it can over power an ongoing force (within someones body) and stop all symptoms of illness / disease or the disease ? Do we mention severity of disease?

    Or....perhaps they were never ill in the first place?

    I know that a healthy mind helps a healthy body and vice versa but for a mind to cure a biological upset (yes, it would be the mind alone because the placebo contains nothing). Seems a little hard to believe.

    Maybe I underestimate it though.
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  12. #11  
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    The placebo effect is more about the person receiving it thinking it helped and reporting that it worked than it is about their actual medical recovery.

    In a lot of cases it is more mind over medicine than mind over body.
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  13. #12  
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    is the mind that incredible that it can over power an ongoing force (within someones body) and stop all symptoms of illness / disease or the disease ? Do we mention severity of disease?
    Absolutely not.

    That's why the placebo effect is so dangerous for some conditions. The asthma study I mentioned in #2 above found that asthma sufferers taking placebo who "felt" as though their breathing was easier were wrong. When they did the lung function test the results showed that they were suffering from reduced lung function - exactly as you'd expect from someone not taking their proper asthma medication.

    Placebo effect is useful(?) when the condition is something like chronic pain that doesn't respond to available medications. It's positively dangerous for serious, life threatening conditions.
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  14. #13  
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    You are absolutely right there. I have always thought of myself as a healthy person so when I got what I thought were a few irritating symptoms I continued my merry way thinking I was basically a healthy person with a couple of niggles that needed sorting. I continued on that vein for a long time putting most symptoms down to environmental causes ie itchy skin due to cat fleas/washing powder/fabric conditioner/need a better skin cream etc. Because I held that belief I carried on as normal, going to work, going out etc and the answer to the question 'how are you?' was always 'really good thanks'. I believed I was healthy so I behaved like I was healthy even after being referred to a consultant I still thought I just had a few simple issues to sort out. So you could have knocked me down with a feather when the consultant told me I was a candidate for going on the liver transplant list.... I literally could have gone to my grave still thinking I was basically healthy.
    In hindsight looking at the symptoms I ignored I cant believe I thought I was healthy at all. Didn't need a transplant btw and am really healthy now and that's seconded by my consultant. So yes, placebo's can be dangerous and lead people to think and feel like they are better when they actually are getting worse/staying the same.
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