The Placebo Effect - 2 Key Takeaways

The power of belief and expectation of an outcome regardless of the lack of any substance to that belief or expectation.

The Placebo Effect - 2 Key Takeaways.
The power of belief and expectation of an outcome regardless of the lack of any substance to that belief or expectation. Graphic.

What The Placebo Effect Is And What It Isn't

Traditionally, the placebo effect occurs when false, or dummy, treatments of inert substances [that appear to be real but aren't] are administered during trials on new drugs, and patients still see their symptoms improve.

The objective is to compare the effect of the new drug on the sample of patients who received it with a sample who received the placebo and also with a further sample who received no treatment.

As a broad generalisation the placebo effect takes place with approximately 30% of the sample to who it was administered. This means that about 1 in 3 people report that they are feeling better after they have received a placebo. However this has increased to 60% in certain recent drugs trials.

The word placebo is Latin for "I will please" and this provides the key to understanding what it is and what it isn't.

The power and the benefit of the placebo lies in how it makes people feel.

Placebo is about feeling it is not about healing.

If it meant healing the word would be Sanabo  for "I will heal". Steven Ross Pomeroy, editor of "RealClearScience" says quite emphatically that:

'The placebo effect is mistakenly viewed as the "power of positive thinking" creating a physiological healing process triggered by belief or expectation, when in reality it is an improvement in perceived symptoms.'

You can not cure cancer or heal a broken leg with a placebo, but it might ease the pain and suffering associated with these conditions.

What Creates The Placebo Effect?

The placebo effect is at the interface of biology and psychology.

McGill University pain researcher Jeffrey Mogil offers a more nuanced perspective:

“The placebo effect is the most interesting phenomenon in all of science, it’s at the precise interface of biology and psychology...

Placebos seem to have the greatest power over symptoms that lie at the blurred boundary between the body and the mind.

The placebo effect is about all the other surrounding stuff that accompanies the placebo.

Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard Medial School, who is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on the placebo effect, said in a recent interview that the study of the placebo effect is about:

“...finding out what is it that’s usually not paid attention to in medicine — the intangible that we often forget when we rely on good drugs and procedures. The placebo effect is a surrogate marker for everything that surrounds a pill. And that includes rituals, symbols, doctor-patient encounters.”

Some of these factors include:

  • Regression to the mean - In the natural course of any illness, symptoms may get better all on their own without any medical intervention.
  • Confirmation bias - People pay more attention to signs that they’re getting better and ignore signs that they’re getting worse.
  • Expectations and learning - When we take an active drug, we often feel better which creates a memory we revisit and recreate when taking a placebo.
  • Pharmacological conditioning - Incredibly, the brain can learn to associate taking a pill with relief, and produce the same brain chemicals when the real drug is replaced with a placebo.
  • Social learning- When people see others getting relief from a placebo treatment they have a greater placebo response when they undergo similar placebo treatment. In my personal opinion this is why some people derive benefit from homeothapy. 
  • Human connection - A caring and empathetic provider can create a stronger placebo response than an apathetic one. Factors as warmth, empathy, duration of interaction, and the communication of positive expectation can all create a stronger placebo effect.

The Wider Impacts Of The Placebo Effect

Traditionally we usually think of the placebo effect in the context of various medical interventions and treatments, and we associate the benefits with pain relief and feeling better.

However, there is growing evidence that the effect can also work in other ways:

  • Enhancing our physical and mental performance
  • Boosting creativity
  • Enhancing cognitive functions

Dr Christian Jarrett has written an informative article with references and resources that explore the wider impacts of the placebo effect:

The Placebo Effect Digested - 10 Amazing Findings

The Placebo Effect - 2 Key Takeaways

[1] The Power of Expectation

The placebo effect is based on the power of belief and expectation of an outcome regardless of the lack of any substance to that belief or expectation.

This is not magical thinking, but the interaction of your mind and body and the positive neurological benefits that can be generated by your belief and expectation.

How you feel has a major effect on how you think and behave.

How you think and behave has a significant effect on the quality of your response to the events in your life.

It is the cumulative effect of your response to the events in your life that shape your long term life experience.

Put simply, the stronger your response to events - the better the outcome.

[2] The Power of Empathy And Compassion

We are all susceptible to people who are persons of direct influence in our lives.

Considerable research into the placebo effect has shown how the power of empathy and compassion from a person of direct influence in someone's life can reinforce and support a positive belief and expectation.

How you make someone else feel can have a significant effect on how they think and behave and thus have a significant effect on the quality of their response to the events in their life.

Compassion is an important aspect of living a balanced life, not only is it good for the other person, it is good for you - it is in your self interest. 

Return from "Placebo Effect" to: Cognitive Distortions

English Chinese (Traditional) Russian French German Italian Spanish Vietnamese


  1. Like A Prayer - Life Is A Mystery

    It Isn't The Process Of Prayer That’s The Problem, It’s The Way It’s Framed. Regardless of what we feel about Madonna or her song the topic of prayer often arouses strong reactions. Usually, it is som…

    Read More

  2. How Things Really Are - The Inbuilt Design Flaws

    Chaos, Disorder And Decay Is The Natural Order Of Things. Nobody has the perfect life. We all struggle and strive to attain health, wealth and personal happiness. Yet these three big areas: our health…

    Read More

  3. Intuition Or Anxiety - Are There Angels Or Devils Crawling Here?

    How To Tell The Difference Between Intuition and Anxiety. How do you know whether the voice of your intuition is real or just the product of your inner anxiety? Several months ago I was having a drink…

    Read More

  4. What Is Truth - How To Tell A Partial Truth From The Whole Truth?

    How the truth and nothing but the truth is often not the whole truth. My great aunty Flo broke her arm and died. It is true that she broke her arm in 1923. It is also true that she died in 1949. But t…

    Read More

  5. Duality And Life Beyond Your Thinking Mind

    Duality and life beyond your thinking mind focuses on the limitations of time, foreground and background, duality and "stuckness". The first aspect of duality and life beyond your thinking mind focuse…

    Read More

  6. The Conscious Mind Is Limited - Be Aware And Be Prepared

    Being aware is the first stage of being prepared. The conscious mind is limited in so many ways. There are some who would argue that there is no such thing as conscious thought and that it is represen…

    Read More

  7. Your Inner Map Of Reality - Here's Why You Think The Way You Do

    The big picture of how your inner map of reality creates your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. Your inner map of reality is based on the filters of your own ethnic, national, social, family and rel…

    Read More

  8. The Failure Of Cancel Culture - Suppression Not Engagement

    Why we need to wear our beliefs lightly and develop negative capability. Throughout history people have campaigned to fight beliefs, ideologies, and injustices that they perceived to be oppressive, di…

    Read More

  9. 4 Big Reasons Why We Get Stuck In Our Attempts At Personal Change

    Most People Spend Their Entire Life Imprisoned Within The Confines Of Their Own Thoughts. This first of the 4 big reasons why we get stuck is, in my view, the most important. The "self-help industry…

    Read More

  10. How Do I Change And Why Is It So Hard?

    We Would Rather Die Than Change, And We Usually Do In my experience, the vast majority of people who say they want to change don’t change. Most people reading this won’t change because they don’t real…

    Read More

  11. The Illusion Of A Separate Self - Windows 11 With Self Awareness!

    Beyond the content of your mind you are so much more than you think you are. When we talk of "myself" this is the conventional way of referring to our self image which is in fact the ego's constructio…

    Read More

  12. Finite And Infinite Games - Dazed, Confused & Ultimately Transcendent

    This is not an instruction manual, it is a wake up call! Over this past week I have read Professor James Carse's highly regarded "Finite And Infinite Games - A Vision Of Life As Play And Possibility"

    Read More

  13. The Gap And The Gain - How Your Brain Sabotages Your Happiness

    How Your Lizard Brain Sabotages Your Happiness We are hardwired to measure our progress in any and all areas of life where we have goals and aspirations. We can't not do it. But what we measure and ho…

    Read More

  14. How To Wake Up - 4 Simple Practices To Help You Wake Up Now

    So What Exactly Does It Mean to Wake Up - What Is "Enlightenment"? There is nothing magical, mystical or mysterious about waking up we’re actually having glimpses of enlightenment all the time. Enligh…

    Read More

  15. Situational Communication - Different Strokes For Different Folks

    Situational communication is about taking account of 3 often ignored factors about the other person. You are a situational communicator when you recognise that effective communication is not an event…

    Read More

  16. How To Influence Without Authority - 6 Key Tips

    The secret to how to influence without authority is that you get what you really want by giving other people what they really want. We live in an interconnected world and knowing how to influence with…

    Read More

  17. Change Questions To Change Your Outcomes

    Asking The Right Questions Is Critical For A Successful Change. Every time we initiate a significant change - whether in our personal life or in an organisation - we will most likely over-estimate our…

    Read More

  18. Group Culture - The Invisible Software That Rules Your Life

    Group culture is: "How we do things round here". We like to see ourselves as free agents making our own choices and living authentically but the reality is that The Matrix has many layers and we are u…

    Read More

  19. Why Getting From A to B Is Not Aways A Straight Line

    In circumstances of significant change, the progress from A to B will not be in a straight line. We run our lives largely on auto-pilot. In most circumstances your experience of getting from A to B is…

    Read More

  20. The Art Of Persuasion Planning For Success - Here's How To Do It!

    To be successful in the art of persuasion you must ensure that certain things happen. To be successful in the art of persuasion you must establish a framework of what has to happen to get you to that…

    Read More

  21. The Art Of Persuasion Advanced Communication Skills - Gaining Buyin

    Create The Environment Where They Want To Buyin to Your Proposal In order to build the win-win you have to uncover what it is that the other person really wants or needs, and to do that you have to as…

    Read More

  22. The Art Of Persuasion The One Fundamental Principle - Create A Win-Win

    The art of persuasion is based on the simple idea that you get what you want by enabling the other party to get what they want. Being a nice friendly person with good inter-personal skills may be a go…

    Read More

  23. Communication Persuasion And Change - Key Skills To Survive & Succeed

    It's not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but those who are most responsive to change, the most persuasive, and the best communicators. We are living in an age of unprecedented ch…

    Read More

  24. The Eisenhower Box - What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent

    What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent And What Is Urgent Is Seldom Important. The Eisenhower Box is a time management and decision-making model devised by President Dwight Eisenhower to help him prioriti…

    Read More

  25. Zen Enlightenment [Satori] - The Stink Of Zen

    Lost In Our Delusions About Enlightenment. There is something in human nature - a desire to glamorise, sanctify, objectify and idolise – that elevates people who have offered deep insights to the huma…

    Read More

  26. 5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery - In Any Area Of Your Life

    The Wisdom Of A Person Who Masters In Any Art Is Reflected In Their Every Attitude. The state and quality of your mind has a very large bearing on the quality of your performance in any area of life t…

    Read More

  27. Dealing With The Toxicity Of Online Dating - 6 Key Tips From A Clinical Psychologist

    Toxicity Is The Price Tag Of Accessibility. In the early days of online dating, users were vetted and had to go through a registration process and agree to comply with a code of conduct designed to en…

    Read More

  28. Why Understanding Ergodicity Is Critical To Your Long Term Survival

    How Not To Be Fooled By Randomness. Ergodicity is an ugly word from the world of mathematics. It is an umbrella term for two sets of conditions of probability and outcome. These two conditions form th…

    Read More

  29. Dealing With Imposter Syndrome - Ego Is The Enemy

    How You Frame A Situation Has A Profound Impact On How You Respond To It Emotionally. Imposter syndrome is a psycho-emotional experience of a fear of being found out as incompetent despite ongoing evi…

    Read More

  30. The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled

    Issues You'll Face When Playing The Long Game. The challenges of the road less traveled is loosely based around the phrase popularised by M.Scott Peck with his book "The Road Less Traveled". This arti…

    Read More

Get new posts by email:


Support This Site