Placebos are the unsung hero of many randomized clinical trials. Now, they just might be getting their own moment in the spotlight.
A new study in Nature Communications found people can still experience a positive neurobiological effect when they are aware that what they’re taking does not contain active ingredients.
Generally, placebos can be given to individuals assigned to control groups of clinical trials. This helps clinicians determine if the treatment in question produces the desired effect. The expectation of a change upon unknowingly receiving a placebo — and the resulting positive or negative result — is referred to as the placebo effect.
Previously, it was thought that a person needed to believe they were taking a treatment with active ingredients for the placebo effect to take place.
Now, the study’s researchers believe “nondeceptive” placebos have potential. Throughout the study’s two experiments, participants in two groups were informed about how placebos can be used, and one group was told they would be given a placebo that could provide positive effects.
After viewing 40 emotionally charged images, participants inhaled a nasal spray, said to help with stress relief. The group who knew it was a placebo still reported a reduction in stress, suggesting that the nondeceptive placebo was physiologically soothing the individuals. An EEG reading confirmed a reduction in stress-related brain activity, emphasizing that the positive changes displayed were genuinely occurring, and not a product of response bias, or participants telling the researchers what they thought the researchers wanted to hear.
Mind over matter may take medication to new heights.