Placebo studies is an interdisciplinary academic discipline concerning the study of the placebo effect. The placebo effect is commonly characterized when patients given a placebo or "fake" treatment exhibit a perceived improvement. The discipline was pioneered by Ted Kaptchuk and colleagues at the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard Medical School. It has been found through clinical placebo studies that the placebo effect in fact plays a significant role; one specific case being the clinical trials of major depressive disorder (MDD).
Until 1955, a placebo treatment was considered a fraudulent substance administered to appease difficult patients. However, the rise of the placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial (RCT), it became widely known throughout the academic community that placebo effects could in fact result in clinical changes and results. However, the ability to distinguish the efficacious ability of placebos over a period of time as well as the those who are coined responders is has proven difficult for scientists.
Initial clinical experiments
In 1954, at Harvard Medical School a team led by Louis Lasagna lead the first known experiment to detect placebo responders. In this experiment approximately 162 postoperative patients were observed for significant pain relief from subcutaneous injections of placebo and morphine. Differences in response and attitude were exhibited between placebo responders and non-placebo responders. "Using Rorschach tests and qualitative interviews, responders, compared to non-responders, were more anxious, self-centered, viewed the hospital care as 'wonderful', had more somatic symptoms, used more cathartics, were 'talkers and were regular church goers.". Overall, this initial study on placebo responders versus non-responders outlined the initial yet unstudied effects of the placebo within the placebo study.
- Brunoni, Andre (2009). "Placebo Response of Non-pharmacological and Pharmacological Trials in Major Depression:A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis". PLOS ONE 4 (3): e4824. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004824. PMC 2653635. PMID 19293925.
- Kaptchuck, Ted (2008). "Do "placebo responders" exist?". Contemporary Clinical Trials 29 (4): 587–595. doi:10.1016/j.cct.2008.02.002. PMID 18378192.
- Lasagna, L. (1954). "A study of the placebo response". Am J Med 194 (6): 770–77. doi:10.1016/0002-9343(54)90441-6. PMID 13158365.
- Wolf, S (1957). "Chance distribution and the placebo "reactor"". J Lab Clin Med 49: 837–841.