• Dr. Ferguson

The Placebo Effect

A placebo is an inactive treatment. The placebo effect is the observed improvement in symptoms that occurs when an inactive treatment is applied.

Suppose you run a drug company and you have a new medication that is supposed to lift the mood in people who are depressed. So you give 100 people the drug and 30 of those people report an improvement in mood. So your drug works, right? Maybe not.

You should have done a study utilizing a “control group,” a group getting a placebo.

So this time you do a study where half the people are given a placebo, a sugar pill.

100 people are given the placebo and 100 people given the new medication for depression. 30 people getting the sugar pill report an improvement in mood and 30 people getting the new drug report an improvement in mood.

We’re no longer convinced the drug does anything, right?

The placebo effect is real and strong. There is a powerful mind/body connection. If one expects that a treatment will work, then there is a good chance the treatment will work, regardless of whether the treatment actually has any physiological effect.

Taking advantage of the placebo effect is one of the top tricks of those trying to sell fake treatments. They don’t even have to be lying when they say 30% of people drinking this tropical fruit juice reported an improvement in mood. All they have to do is fail to compare their fruit juice with a placebo.