Merely Possessing a Placebo Analgesic Reduced Pain Intensity: Preliminary Findings from a Randomized Design
An experiment was conducted to examine whether the mere possession of a placebo analgesic cream would affect perceived pain intensity in a laboratory pain-perception test. Healthy participants read a medical explanation of pain aimed at inducing a desire to seek pain relief and then were informed that a placebo cream was an effective analgesic drug. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive the cream as an unexpected gift, whereas the other half did not receive the cream. Subsequently, all participants performed the cold-pressor task. We found that participants who received the cream but did not use it reported lower levels of pain intensity during the cold-pressor task than those who did not receive the cream. Our findings constitute initial evidence that simply possessing a placebo analgesic can reduce pain intensity. The study represents the first attempt to investigate the role of mere possession in understanding placebo analgesia. Possible mechanisms and future directions are discussed.
KeywordsPlacebo effect Mere possession Cold pressor Placebo analgesia Pain
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This research was part of a larger project supported by a Faculty Research Grant (FRG #02133) to the first author.
The research involved human participants.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in the study.
The researchers obtained ethical approval from the University and complied with ethical guidelines for the treatment of human participants.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
- Aiken, L., West, S.G., & Reno, R.R. (1991) Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions, Sage.Google Scholar
- Atlas, L. Y., Wager, T. D., Dahl, K. P., & Smith, E. E. (2009). Placebo effects Handbook of Neuroscience for the Behavioral Sciences: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.Google Scholar
- Bonferroni, C. E. (1936). Teoria statistica delle classi e calcolo delle probabilità. Pubblicazioni del R Istituto Superiore di Scienze Economiche e Commerciali di Firenze, 8, 3–62.Google Scholar
- Campbell, C. M., & Edwards, R. R. (2012). Ethnic differences in pain and pain management. Pain, 2, 219–230.Google Scholar
- Colloca, L., Flaten, M. A., & Meissner, K. (2013). Placebo and pain. From Bench to Bedside. Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Epley, N., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J.T. (2007). On seeing human: A three-factor theory of anthropomorphism. Psychological Review, 114(4), 864–886.Google Scholar
- Harrington, A. (1997). The placebo effect: An interdisciplinary exploration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Kotov, R., Bellman, S., & Watson, D. (2004). Multidimensional Iowa suggestibility scale (MISS). Stony Brook University.Google Scholar
- Spielberger, C., Gorsuch, R., Lushene, R., Vagg, P., & Jacobs, G. (1983). Manual for the state-trait anxiety inventory. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar