Apr. 15, 2002
The so-called "placebo effect" in medicine has been talked about for nearly half of a century. Researchers from the University of Michigan offer a new way to look at the placebo effect. They say the term is being misused and needs to be better defined.
They suggest placebo effect is often really a "meaning response."
The authors offer this example; a British study involved more than 800 women who had regular headaches. Some of the women were given aspirin that had been labeled with a widely advertised brand name. Another group was given the same aspirin in a plain package. The study reports the branded aspirin worked better in the patients than the unbranded aspirin.
Some would consider this the "placebo effect." However, researchers say this is not truly a placebo effect because no placebo was involved. Instead this is what they consider a "meaning response."
Meaning response is defined as the physiological or psychological effects of meaning in the treatment of an illness. In this case, it was the brand name on the aspirin, not the placebo, that had an effect on the patient.
Researchers write, "The one thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that placebos do not cause placebo effects. Placebos are inert and don't cause anything." They hope by focus on the idea of meaning response instead of placebo effect will lead to a greater insight into how treatments work.
SOURCE: Annals of Internal Medicine, 2002;136:471-476
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