Placebo studies

From HandWiki

Placebo studies is an interdisciplinary academic discipline concerning the study of the placebo effect. The placebo effect is commonly characterized when patients given a placebo or "fake" treatment exhibit a perceived improvement.[1] The discipline was pioneered by Ted Kaptchuk and colleagues at the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard Medical School. It has been found through clinical placebo studies that the placebo effect in fact plays a significant role; one specific case being the clinical trials of major depressive disorder (MDD).[2]


Until 1955, a placebo treatment was considered a fraudulent substance administered to appease difficult patients.[3] However, the rise of the placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial (RCT), it became widely known throughout the academic community that placebo effects could in fact result in clinical changes and results.[3] However, the ability to distinguish the efficacious ability of placebos over a period of time as well as those who are coined responders has proven difficult for scientists.[3]

Initial clinical experiments

In 1954, at Harvard Medical School a team led by Louis Lasagna lead the first known experiment to detect placebo responders.[4] In this experiment approximately 162 postoperative patients were observed for significant pain relief from subcutaneous injections of placebo and morphine.[4] Differences in response and attitude were exhibited between placebo respondents and non-placebo respondents.[4] "Using Rorschach tests and qualitative interviews, respondents, compared to non-respondents, were more anxious, self-centered, viewed the hospital care as 'wonderful', had more somatic symptoms, used more cathartics, were 'talkers and were regular church goers.".[3] Overall, this initial study on placebo responders versus non-responders outlined the initial yet unstudied effects of the placebo within the placebo study.

In 1957, a team led by Wolf at Cornell University Medical School conducted an experiment to determine the reliability of the placebo response within the placebo study.[5]


  1. "Reconsidering the placebo response from a broad anthropological perspectives". Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 33 (1): 112–52. March 2009. doi:10.1007/s11013-008-9122-2. PMID 19107582. 
  2. "Placebo response of non-pharmacological and pharmacological trials in major depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis". PLOS One 4 (3): e4824. 2009. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004824. PMID 19293925. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Do "placebo responders" exist?". Contemporary Clinical Trials 29 (4): 587–95. July 2008. doi:10.1016/j.cct.2008.02.002. PMID 18378192. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "A study of the placebo response". The American Journal of Medicine 16 (6): 770–9. June 1954. doi:10.1016/0002-9343(54)90441-6. PMID 13158365. 
  5. "Chance distribution and placebo reactor". The Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine 49 (6): 837–41. June 1957. PMID 13429202.