May 9, 2019

Placebo: Can the Mind Cure You?

by Science Vs

Background show artwork for Science Vs

Could fake medicine actually take away your pain or treat a disease? We dig into the science of placebos to find out more about the power of the mind to heal. We speak to medical researcher Prof. Ted Kaptchuk, neuroscientist Prof. Fabrizio Benedetti and medical psychologist Prof. Manfred Schedlowski.

UPDATE 5/13/19: We changed a few things in this episode to clarify facts. An earlier version of this episode implied that the placebo surgery for knee and back pain was really effective in itself. In fact, these studies found that some placebo surgeries work as well as real surgeries. In other words, patients reported less pain after both the real surgery and the placebo surgery.

We also said that Pavlov’s studies used a bell to condition dogs. Whether Pavlov himself used a conventional bell is debated in the literature. Some say this was an early translation error from Russian to English. Later studies by his colleagues definitely used a bell.

Finally! We have added a caveat into placebo research more generally to highlight that this research is early and that we don’t have many have long-term studies into placebos, so we don’t know how long the placebo effect can last.

Check out the full transcript here:

Selected References: 

Credits: This episode was produced by Wendy Zukerman, with help from Rose Rimler, Meryl Horn, and Michelle Dang. Our senior producer is Kaitlyn Sawrey. We’re edited by Blythe Terrell. Editing help from Caitlin Kenney. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Mix and sound design by Peter Leonard. Music by Peter Leonard, Emma Munger and Bobby Lord. Recording assistance from Fabian Mirko May, Mary Dooe and Maggie Penman. A huge thanks to all the scientists we got in touch with for this episode, including Dr. Diletta Barbiani, Dr. Cynthia McRae, Dr. J Bruce Moseley, Professor Apkar Apkarian, Professor Jon Stoessl, and others. And special thanks to Lynda McKenzie, the Zukerman family, and Joseph Lavelle Wilson.