Exploring the Placebo Effect

What is the placebo effect?

While attending the recent conference of the Committee of Scientific Inquiry in Nashville, TN, another compelling talk was given by Dr. Steven Novella, director of General Neurology at Yale University’s School of Medicine.   Along with being a fellow of the Committee of Scientific Inquiry and a popular blogger and podcaster, Dr. Novella is also a well-known media figure who become one of the leaders in the skeptical movement with a focus on debunking alternative medicine claims.

In his talk on the placebo effect, Dr. Novella began by mentioning the ambiguity over exactly what the placebo effect is.  “For many years, the placebo effect was considered to be a nuisance effect that needed to be controlled in clinical trials,”  Dr. Novella stated.  “ More recently, the placebo effect has been redefined as the key to understanding the healing that arises from the medical ritual in the context of the patient\provider relationship and the power of imagination, trust and hope.”  

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While the medical community recognizes that medically inert substances such as the basic sugar pill can often produce positive medical benefits when patients are deceived about their medical value, this placebo effect has always been controversial (placebo comes from the Latin “I shall please”).   Should medical doctors rely on deception to avoid using potentially more dangerous medications?   And how effective or reliable is the placebo effect anyway?

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post here.

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