• Question: How does the Placebo effect work?

    Asked by anon-181550 to Lauren on 7 Jun 2018.
    • Photo: Lauren Burns

      Lauren Burns answered on 7 Jun 2018:

      This is a fantastic question! So, a placebo is some sort of fake treatment, e.g. taking a sugar pill rather than a pill that actually has medicine in it. Essentially, the placebo effect works because of people’s belief they are being treated, sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Whether or not the placebo effect occurs depends on the person, the illness they have, the severity of the illness and other things. So ideally, if you are conducting a study to see whether some medication works, you examine a control group (i.e. a group of people who are not being given anything), a placebo group (i.e. a group of people being given ‘fake’ treatment, such as a sugar pill) and the treatment group (people who are being treated with the new medication). If the treatment group improves significantly more than the placebo group, you know the medication works. Without the placebo group, you do not know if any improvements seen are due to the medication, or just because people think they are getting better.