Sometimes the placebo effect stems not from a pill or treatment but from the patient's biases. A study published in March 2008 showed that expensive placebos are better than cheap ones. In another example, medical students in one study were given packets of red or blue inert tablets and told they were evaluating a new stimulant and a new tranquilizer. Those taking the red pills reported stimulant effects while those taking the blue ones felt depressed—reactions compatible with their association with the colors red and blue. Those who took a double dose of the pills had a stronger response than those who took only a single dose.
In clinical practice, the most important placebo effect may well be the doctor's attitude. In a British study, patients with various symptoms were divided into two groups, only one of which received firm assurance from the doctor that they would soon be well. Half the patients in each group were then "treated" with a placebo, while the other half was not. The doctors' positive attitude yielded a higher incidence of symptom improvement in both groups.
Stanford and Clatech researchers recently served two identical glasses of wine to subjects, telling them the first glass was from a $10 bottle and the second glass was from a $90 bottle. Subjects liked the more expensive wine almost twice as much as they liked the less expensive wine. Study after study has shown that people tend to enjoy something more when they have high expectations.
The placebo effect has a powerful affect on people. This effect may be seen in other places than in medicine or clinical studies, such as in belief in the powers of certain martial art “masters.”
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