Trivia

Hard

Placebos Work Better If They?

Taste Bitter
Are Blue
Cost More
Smell Medicinal
Four syringes of varied volumes and design with hypodermic needles attached.
Intropin/Wikimedia

Answer: Cost More

There’s a wide body of research showing that consumers prefer things that they perceive as high in value: food tastes better when it costs more, wines are regarded as more flavorful and dynamic when the drinker thinks the wine is expensive, beauty products with high price tags carry with them a perceived notion of higher effectiveness, and so on.

Thanks to recent research, we now know that the cost/value association even applies to placebo medicines. In a double blind study, patients were given saline injection shots and told that the point of the study was to prove the equivalence of two nearly identical drugs, but that one cost $100 a dose and the other cost $1,500 a dose.

Half of the patients were given the placebo with the higher suggested price tag first followed by the cheaper one while the other half of the group were given the placebo shots in reverse order (lower to higher priced). At least two-thirds of the group said they experienced a greater effect when given the higher priced placebo regardless of the order in which they received the shots.

From the study: After the study, the participants were told about the true nature of the study. “Eight of the participants said they did have greater expectations of the “expensive” drug and were amazed at the extent of the difference brought about by their expectations,” Espay said. “Interestingly, the other four participants said they had no expectation of greater benefits of the more expensive drug, and they also showed little overall changes.”

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