Placebos Work Even If You Don't Believe in Them

This is one of the most important medical “breakthroughs” in recent memory.  You should read the entire article, because it makes some subtle points, but the upshot is that placebo has (at least) two components, one that is triggered by conscious belief in a putative cure, and another that is triggered by unconscious, Pavlovian association.

Clearly the best benefit comes if you engage both, but if you are skeptical person, you might be at a disadvantage.  Here’s a thought though: just by knowing that you will get some benefit from a known placebo should cause you to (logically) believe the placebo will work, so maybe this is enough to engage the belief component.

Here are some interesting tidbits buried at the end of the article which should be leveraged:

  • “… a physician can maximize a placebo effect by radiating confidence or spending more time with the patient.”
  • “A high price tag on the drug can apparently help, too.”

On this latter effect, I would bet that the mechanism isn’t limited to dollar value or to drugs, so for those that worry that this can be used to justify the high cost of pills here are two alternatives:

  1. Push interventions that are not based on a pill but rather have positive benefits for anyone, such as more broccoli.
  2. Push interventions that don’t cost money but require some form of sacrifice or work on the part of the patient, such as exercise.

And remember, it’s unlucky to be superstitious, and just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.