Placebo Uses | Placebo Effect Experiments | The Workings of the Placebo Effect | Placebo Sources

HISTORY AND ORIGIN OF PLACEBOS AND THE PLACEBO EFFECT
The word placebo originates from the Latin meaning “to please.” (Ask Mr. Hunt if you would like to confirm this.) (Corsini, 1996) The placebo effect dates back to when natural substances, like animal parts, were believed to promote healing diseases or illnesses, regardless of the fact that the types of substances and methods being used did not have any scientific way of affecting a person’s health. (Strickland, 2001) The placebo effect can be found in places where objects possess a healing power and rituals are performed to heal those that are ill. Although some refer to placebos as a sham treatment, most of medical history shows that the placebo effect was the main treatment offered to patients by physicians. In addition, placebos were used for blind assessments of new treatments throughout the nineteenth century. Placebos evaluated the effectiveness of treatments, like mesmerism and homeopathy, and have now evolved into double-blind controlled trials for drug development and other therapeutic methods.
Embedded from blog.lib.umn.edu
Embedded from blog.lib.umn.edu

DEFINITION
When a treatment or medication has no pharmacological value, it is a placebo. Another way of looking at it is "a dummy pill that contains no active ingredient." (Sahelian, 2000) Although the treatment or method has no actual therapeutic value, placebos are still able to improve the conditions of a specific patient as a result of trust in the treatment being given. A broad definition of a placebo is “any therapy (or that component of any therapy) that is deliberately used for its nonspecific psychologic or physiologic effect, or that is used for its presumed effect on a patient, [symptom or illness] but which, unknown to patient and therapist, is without specific activity for the condition being treated.” (Corsini, 1996)

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Placebos are used in studies to test the effectiveness of particular drugs and evaluate the specific effects of new pharmacological agents. Although researchers don’t fully understand the placebo effect, it helps to boost the influences of both physiological and psychological treatments. Placebos are used in several types of experiments including placebo controlled, single blind, and double blind trials. A placebo controlled trial is a study where a group of volunteers receive a medicine, and another group, called the control, is given a placebo. When it is a single blind trial, the volunteers do not know whether they are taking the placebo or the actual medication. If the subjects were to know which substance they were given, the placebo effect would not occur, for the volunteers would know their pill has no medical effectiveness. During a double blind trial, neither the volunteer nor the researcher knows which is the placebo or the drug. This is possible because the placebo is made to look exactly the same as the drug so that the results of the experiments are not altered and extraneous variables are eliminated. In addition, without having both the subject and experimenter know which pill is which, another potential extraneous variable is reduced. If the experimenter knows what pill is being given, his or her actions with the patient can affect the extent to which the patient believes in the treatment, and therefore could ultimately alter the results of the trial. At the end of a double blind trial, the volunteer and researcher discover who got which pill by cracking the code that withholds that information. It is then that researchers can determine the usefulness of a specific drug by comparing the responses between the experimental and control groups. When the two groups have similar reactions, which means the placebo p
Embedded from http://www.wired.com/
Embedded from http://www.wired.com/
roduced the same effects as the drug, the drug is deemed useless. For example, let’s imagine that Mr. Hall concocts a drug that will make you remember every US History fact known to man and wants to test it in comparison to a placebo pill. If those that take his pill really do remember everything, and the placebo group does not, well then Mr. Hall has successfully created a miracle drug and can become a millionaire by selling it to AP US History students. Congratulations, Mr. Hall.

The placebo effect is used for pharmacological studies that are related to such conditions as the following: adrenal gland secretion, angina pain, blood cell counts, blood pressure, cold vaccine, common cold, cough reflex, fever, gastric secretion and motility, headache, hot flashes, insomnia, measles vaccine, oral contraceptives, pain, pupil dilation and contraction, rheumatoid arthritis, vasomotor function, warts, etc. However, placebos are not limited to pharmacological studies, but also are studied in psychotherapy, acupuncture, hypnosis, and behavioral treatments for insomnia and pain. For all these studies, placebos act as a way to assess the validity of treatments, methods, and drugs. They achieve this by creating a way to compare both the experimental and control groups to see if the drug or treatment has an actual effect on a patient or if it is useless. So as you may see, a placebo can do a lot of stuff even though it really doesn't exist.