Placebos

Jan. 18th, 2011 06:50 pm
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Ben Goldacre writes the "Bad Science" column for The Guardian.  Watch him give a 15 minute lecture on the placebo effect in 5 minutes.  Hyperactive and educational (and somewhat profane right at the beginning and end)!


The mini-lecture really got me thinking this afternoon.  Can we test the placebo effect in other animals?  I had this grand vision of giving rats flavored caffeine pills...and then giving them flavored sugar pills and seeing if they still got hyper...but then The Wife crushed my dreams of a Nobel by pointing out that this would be more of a conditioned response and that I was basically recapitulating Pavlov. (Thanks, Wife.)

But I thought on!  What sort of non-humans can we explain medicine to directly?  Bring on the Apes!  Someone needs to recruit an enterprising Zoo Vet and some chimps that have learned sign language.  It'd be brilliant!

...and in the mean time, as a more practical research path let's look at a bridge between human and animal: anyone know if post-verbal toddlers are susceptible to the placebo effect (since they are effectively the same mental age as most great apes)?  What's the cut-in point?  When to sugar pills take effect?  And is it a gradual thing?  Sure, you kiss boo-boos to make them feel better pretty early on, but what about a sugar pill that did other things?  Could you induce a psychosomatic rash with words alone on most 5 year-olds?  6 year olds?  Inquiring minds want to know!!

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