Researchers at MIT conducted an experiment testing the perceived effectiveness of a placebo that is purportedly, as far as the research subjects were concerned, a new expensive pain medication, against a placebo that was portrayed as having its price recently drop to a dime.
The participants rated each shock on a scale ranging from “no pain at all” to “worst pain imaginable.” Then they took their pills, which weren’t painkillers at all, and rolled up their sleeves to get the jolts and record their impressions a second time.
The results: 85% of the “regular-price” group reported a reduction in pain after taking the pill compared to 61% in the 10-cent group. Not bad on both counts for a drug that isn’t supposed to do anything.
The better showing by the more costly pill shows that “how you set up people’s expectation is crucial” to treatment effect, says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University School of Medicine. While he has no proof, Berns tells the Health Blog that he thinks pharmaceutical companies take such expectation into account when they set prices for their medicines.
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