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Placebo Roundup

September 16, 2005

Positive thinking may be as positive as they say. Bob Hirshon tells us about a new study on the placebo effect.


The power of positive thinking. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Patients who are given fake pain medication–like a sugar pill–often report feeling much better. This phenomenon is known as the placebo effect. Now, doctors believe they’ve discovered why placebos work. University of Michigan researchers report that when people believe they are taking a pain killer, their brains release natural pain-killers, called endorphins. So merely thinking you’re getting drugs induces your body to produce its own.

A related story suggests this effect is also responsible for the success of homeopathy, a popular alternative medical therapy. A study in the British journal Lancet looked at over hundred trials on the effectiveness of the therapy, and found that when only the most rigorous studies are considered, homeopathic treatments were no more effective than placebos.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.