Daily Archives: January 5, 2011

Placebos can work even when patients are aware of the placebo

New Scientist reports:

According to Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues at least one condition can be calmed by placebo, even when everyone knows it’s just an inert pill…

In the latest study, Kaptchuk tested the effect of placebo versus no treatment in 80 people with irritable bowel syndrome. Twice a day, 37 people swallowed an inert pill could not be absorbed by the body. The researchers told participants that it could improve symptoms through the placebo effect.

While 35 per cent of the patients who had not received any treatment reported an improvement, 59 per cent of the placebo group felt better. “The placebo was almost twice as effective as the control,” says Kaptchuk.

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The psychology of temptation

The Associated Press reports:

[How] happiness [from pleasurable experiences] turns into a habit involves a pleasure-sensing chemical named dopamine. It conditions the brain to want that reward again and again — reinforcing the connection each time — especially when it gets the right cue from your environment.

People tend to overestimate their ability to resist temptations around them, thus undermining attempts to shed bad habits, says experimental psychologist Loran Nordgren, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management…

In one experiment, he measured whether heavy smokers could watch a film that romanticizes the habit… without taking a puff. Upping the ante, they’d be paid according to their level of temptation: Could they hold an unlit cigarette while watching? Keep the pack on the table? Or did they need to leave the pack in another room?

Smokers who’d predicted they could resist a lot of temptation tended to hold the unlit cigarette — and were more likely to light up than those who knew better than to hang onto the pack, says Nordgren.