Bloggingheads and the placebo effect

By Felix Salmon
September 8, 2009

I taped this bloggingheads conversation with James Kwak last week, a good time was had I think by both of us.

James would like to draw your attention to the discussion of wine at the end; he says that enjoying expensive wine when you know intellectually that there’s no correlation between price and quality is a bit like getting a placebo effect from a drug when you know it’s a placebo. He’s right — and I’d be very interested in seeing any empirical data on the placebo effect under just those conditions. Has anybody done such a study?


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Treatments for the common cold often work, and are derived from the placebo effect. Lots of orange juice helps me, and whether it’s because of the placebo effect or not doesn’t really matter.

Note that “orange juice works if and only if you believe in it” is logically equivalent to “orange juice fails to work if and only if you don’t believe in it”. I have a friend for whom no common-cold remedies work, in part because he’s educated and thinks of himself as very rational, but his equilibrium is no more rational than mine, and mine works out better from a practical standpoint.


For some reason, I seem to remember seeing a study along those lines done in either Choices, Values and Frames by Kahneman and Tversky or Behavioral Finance by Thaler.

Sorry for not having more details. Both are good reads regardless, though.

My old friend Tom Lee came across this a while back, riffing on the brilliant line “That’s right: someday soon scientists may be working to develop a pill that can mimic the placebo effect.” 8/tautologous-but-highly-patentable/

He was writing about this study that (I believe) shows the placebo effect has increased over time. 8/02/27/antidepressants_depressing_news_ or_not.php

Posted by mike d | Report as abusive

Someone I am sitting to said that there are studies that show you can get a placebo effect from a drug you know is a placebo. Sorry, no cites.

Here’s an interesting post on the placebo effect from The Situationist: 9/09/18/placebo-and-the-situation-of-hea ling/