Non-blind Placebo

Placebo is sometimes called a sugar pill, indicating that it is medically ineffectual, yet a person given such ineffectual treatment will often have an actual improvement in their condition. 

One key thing with the use of placebo, is that it involves deceiving the person receiving it. For example, before many drugs get into the market, they would surely have to be tested against placebo. And people who are being tested, all would think that they are receiving the drug, though some do not know that they are actually taking a placebo, are serving as the “control group”.

So what’s this “non-blind placebo”? In the 1960s, two researchers published an unusual article “Nonblind Placebo Trial: An exploration of neurotic patients.” Non-blind, i.e. the neurotic patients were told that what they were to take are sugar pills, with no active ingredients in it. Fifteen neurotic participants from a psychiatric clinic were selected, and they each read the following script:

“Mr Doe, at the intake conference we discussed your problems and it was decided to consider further the possibility and the need of treatment for you before we make a final recommendation next week. Meanwhile, we have a week between now and our next appointment, and we would like to do something to give you some relief from your symptoms. Many different kinds of tranquilisers and similar pills have been used for condition such as yours, and many of them have helped. Many people with your kind of condition have also been helped by what are sometimes called ‘sugar pills’, and we feel that so-called sugar pill may help you, too. Do you know what a sugar pill is? A sugar pill is a pill with no medicine in it at all. I think this pill will help you as it has helped so many others. Are you willing to try this pill?” (Park & Covi, 1965)

One of the 15 patients refused to take part. Of the remaining 14 patients, 13 showed signs of significant improvement across different measures. The researchers note that the improvement of 41% found here was greater than the improvement found in previous studies of real drugs, using the same measures.

It might sound ludicrous but this is what has been found. (Definitely have to replicate this study when I get the opportunity). What do you think about this research finding?

It’s all about one’s expectation, this is what I think – what you believe and expect is going to happen. You can be given a sugar pill believing that it will do you good and expecting to get better, or you can be given a world most advanced and expensive pill thinking that it is useless and expecting to get worse. So, no matter what kind of treatment you are receiving, be it drug or psychotherapy or hypnotherapy or counselling, have the belief that you will get better, expect that you will get better – these will definitely help! (Self-fulfilling prophecy!)

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