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Placebo Effect: It Might Not Be In Your Head After All

The “placebo effect” is the idea that a pill or treatment with no medicinal ingredient can help or cure a person because he or she believes it will — that the idea of treatment can be as important as treatment itself.

The clinical research into placebos goes back to 1978, when researchers found that some dental patients got as much relief from a placebo pill as others did from a narcotic painkiller.

There’s new evidence that what’s going on is more than psychological. Some people may actually have a gene or series of genes that make them more likely to be helped by a placebo – even when they know it’s a placebo.

The implications are numerous, including reshaping the way researchers do clinical trials, and reconsidering who should get drugs and at what doses.

The research is published in the journal “Trends in Molecular Medicine,” and Dr. Kathryn Hall, a research fellow at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, is lead author. She joins Here & Now’s Robin Young in the studio to discuss her new research and its implications.


  • Kathryn Hall, M.D., research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.

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