The Placebo Effect

The placebo effect is in the news again, at least in the UK.

It’s a shame in a way that the piece is about back pain, since most people have little idea of its mechanisms, and non-sufferers are prone to think it’s imaginary anyway. But it happened to be an interest of mine for most of my career, and I ran an NHS district back clinic latterly in my career. I don’t know if you foreigners can access the BBC i-player, but if so the documentary will be on it after it’s broadcast this evening.

I was going to take the opportunity of blogging on the subject at the Hump of the Camel, but find I said most of what I would have written three years ago here.

The take home points are firstly how significant the mind - and specifically the mind in relationship - is to health, compared to the modern emphasis on system details.

The second is the indication the placebo effect gives us of the essential integration of mind and body (and therefore all we are) as a single functional unity, rather than an assemblage of parts, evolutionary or otherwise. Our belief - or perhaps better, out trust, is able to produce measurable effects on physical parameters over which not only we do not have conscious control, but which in some cases are physically impaired.

Questions not raised in my blog post (nor, I suppose, in the new studies) are whether this “spooky” teleology is restricted to humans, or in some way a reflection of something operating more widely in living organisms; and if so, whether it has any bearing on teleology in evolution.


I agree its the mind IF that means the memory.
Our souls do not feel pain. tHey are immaterial. the only connection is the mind/memory. So when feeling pain we are actually just observing memory. Thus pain can be invented, exaggerated, or non existent, as in trauma case or that condition, forget the name, where people don’t feel pain.
So if this true placebo would be a minor trivial manifestation of tricking the memory. nOt much different then pain medication.

I wonder if anyone has done a placebo study on animals…probably, right?

Yes, I wondered that as I watched the the programme. How do you tell your dog the blue pills will help his mange? They say acupuncture works by placebo effect, and I’ve heard dogs can benefit from that.