Placebo effect studies show the strong powers of the human brain.
And the placebo effect might still work even if research participants know the treatment they are receiving has no medical value, shows the research conducted by CU-Boulder graduate student Scott Schafer, from Associate Professor Tor Wager’s Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.
When patients were conditioned in minimum four sessions to believe that placebo treatment work, even if after that the the truth about the treatment is revealed, they continue to get treatment benefits (like pain relief), underlining the positive outcomes of expectations. “We’re still learning a lot about the critical ingredients of placebo effects. What we think now is that they require both belief in the power of the treatment and experiences that are consistent with those beliefs. Those experiences make the brain learn to respond to the treatment as a real event. After the learning has occurred, your brain can still respond to the placebo even if you no longer believe in it”, Schaffer declared.
To conduct the research, Schafer applied a ceramic heating element on subjects skin, using enough heat to induce pain sensations, but not enough to induce burns. The treatment for the sores was Vaseline with blue food coloring in a pharmaceutical container look-alike.
“They believed the treatment was effective in relieving pain,” Schafer said. “After this process, they had acquired the placebo effect. We tested them with and without the treatment on medium intensity. They reported less pain with the placebo.”
The study results could define new ways to treat drug addiction or manage pain for people who have undergone surgery, using strong, potentially addictive and health-harming painkillers.