Program in Placebo Studies

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The Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS) was founded in July 2011, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard Medical School. Its purpose is to bring together researchers who are examining the placebo response and the impact of medical ritual, the patient-physician relationship and the power of imagination, hope, trust, persuasion, compassion and empathic witnessing in the healing process. PiPS research is translational, spanning molecular biology, neuroscience and clinical care, as well as interdisciplinary, ranging from the basic sciences to psychology to the history of medicine. The program hopes to soon expand its efforts to include health policy, with the ultimate goal of improving health care systems by elucidating, quantifying and reaffirming the more intangible and humanistic aspects of medical care.

PiPS researchers include many of the founding members of the field of placebo studies. They are drawn from Harvard University’s teaching hospitals, as well as its Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Articles written by PiPS researchers have been published in top-tier peer-reviewed journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine,[1] The Lancet,[2] British Medical Journal,[3] Annals of Internal Medicine,[4] PLoS Medicine,[5] Archives of General Psychiatry,[6] American Psychologist,[7] Psychological Bulletin,[8] Psychological Science,[9] Journal of Neuroscience,[10] Social Science & Medicine,[11] Bulletin of the History of Medicine,[12] and Psychosomatic Medicine.[13] The team's research has also been featured on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, HBO, NPR, BBC television and radio, Forbes, Slate Magazine, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Newsweek and Time Magazine.

PiPS is led by the following members of the Harvard faculty:

  • Ted Kaptchuk, Director
  • Irving Kirsch, PhD, Associate Director
  • Randy L. Gollub, MD, PhD, Director of Neuroimaging
  • Anne Harrington, PhD, Director of Initiatives in the Humanities
  • Efi Kokkoutou, MD, PhD, Director of Molecular Biology Research
  • John Kelley, PhD, Director of Psychological Research
  • Anthony Lembo, MD, Director of Clinical Research


  1. ^ Wechsler, M., Kelley, J. M., Boyd, I., Dutile, S., Marigowda, G., Kirsch, I., et al. (2011). Active or placebo albuterol, sham acupuncture or no treatment in asthma. New England Journal of Medicine, 365, 119-126.
  2. ^ Kaptchuk, T. J., Kerr, C. E., & Zanger, A. (2009). Placebo Controls, Exorcisms and the Devil. The Lancet, 374(9697), 1234 - 1235.
  3. ^ Kaptchuk, T. J., Kelley, J. M., Conboy, L. A., Davis, R. B., Kerr, C. E., Jacobson, E. E., et al. (2008). Components of the Placebo Effect: A randomized controlled trial in irritable bowel syndrome. British Medical Journal, 336, 998-1003.
  4. ^ Kaptchuk TJ. The placebo effect in alternative medicine: can the performance of a healing ritual have clinical significance? Ann Intern Med 2002; 136:817-25.
  5. ^ Kirsch, I., Deacon, B. J., Huedo-Medina, T. B., Scoboria, A., Moore, T. J., & Johnson, B. T. (2008). Initial severity and antidepressant benefits: A meta-analysis of data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. PLoS Medicine, 5(2). Retrieved from
  6. ^ Charney et al. (2002). National depressive and manic-depressive association consensus statement on the use of placebo in clinical trials of mood disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59(3), 262-270.
  7. ^ Kirsch, I. (1985). Response Expectancy as a Determinant of Experience and Behavior. American Psychologist, 40(11), 1189-1202.
  8. ^ Kirsch, I., & Lynn, S. J. (1998). Dissociation theories of hypnosis. Psychological Bulletin, 123(1), 100-115.
  9. ^ Montgomery, G. H., & Kirsch, I. (1996). Mechanisms of placebo pain reduction: An empirical investigation. Psychological Science, 7(3), 174-176.
  10. ^ Kong, J., Gollub, R. L., Polich, G., Kirsch, I., LaViolette, P., Vangel, M., et al. (2008). An fMRI study on the neural mechanisms of hyperalgesic nocebo effect. Journal of Neuroscience 28(49), 13354 –13362.
  11. ^ Conboy LA, Macklin EA, Kelly J, Kokkotou E, Lembo A, Davis R, Kaptchuk TJ. Which patients improve characteristics increasing sensitivity to a supportive patient-practitioner relationship. Soc Sci Med; 2010: 479-84.
  12. ^ Kaptchuk TJ. Intentional ignorance: a history of blind assessment and placebo controls in medicine. Bull Hist Med 1998; 72:389-433.
  13. ^ Kelley JM, Lembo AJ, Ablon JS, Villanueva JJ, Conboy LA, Levy R, Marci CD, Kerr C, Kirsch I, Jacobson EE, Riess H, Kaptchuk TJ. Patient and practitioner influences on the placebo effect in irritable bowel syndrome. Psychosomatic Medicine 2009; 71: 789-797.

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