Placebos Might Work Even Better With a Brand Name

Posted on April 11, 2008 

Placebos Might Work Even Better With a Brand Name

In a provocative 82-patient study, researchers at MIT found that a dummy pill carrying a $2.50 price tag eases pain much more effectively than an identical pill that patients believe costs just 10 cents.

The results may help explain, among other things, why some patients report worsening symptoms when they switch from a brand-name drug to a cheaper generic version of the same medicine, principal investigator Dan Ariely tells the Health Blog. “The placebo effect is really about the body’s ability to heal itself and prepare for a future that it expects to happen,” says Ariely, a behavioral economist who took time out from a tour for his book “Predictably Irrational” to talk with us. The findings suggest that factors well beyond what people think is in a pill can have an impact on the medicine’s effectiveness. The results of the study, funded by MIT, appear in the current JAMA.

In the study, healthy volunteers were given a brochure describing a new (and fictional) codeine-like painkiller that had just been approved by the FDA. Then they were randomly assigned to two groups, one of which was told the pill cost $2.50, the other, without further explanation, that it was discounted to a dime.

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