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The Placebo Effect
The activity I chose to write about was on Dr. Walter A. Brown’s article in Scientific American about placebos and their effect on the patients. His article described what a placebo is and if it is ethical for doctors to prescribe this “treatment'; to their patients.
Dr. Brown, who is a psychologist at Brown University, decided to do a study on the effects of a placebo. A placebo is any treatment or drug with no medicinal value that is given to a patient to relieve symptoms of an ailment. His hypothesis in the article focused on if the placebos had any effect on the patients who took them.
To test his hypothesis, Dr. Brown and his colleagues performed experiments on patients who had depression. To test his idea, he employed what is known as the “double blind technique.'; This type of experimentation involves that neither the doctors nor the patients know if they are receiving the real “stuff'; or simply sugar pills (placebos). Only the experimenters know who gets what. What this supposedly does is that the patient will mentally think that the doctor is giving him/her the real drug and they will
soon be feeling better. When in reality, it is themselves, not the medicine, which makes them feel better. These are the findings of Dr. Brown.
In his experiments on the placebos, he found that the placebo can make a
person feel better, but it can also have no effect what-so-ever. In his study of the depressed patients, about 50% of the subjects with normal levels of cortisone benefited from the placebo, whereas, only about 35% of the depressed patients benefited from the drug. This led Dr. Brown to realize that there are other factors in treating depression. He found that the persons with short-term depression responded more favorably to the placebo than those with long-term depression.
Other doctors also performed “placebo experiments'; to realize if it really works. One example would be of the experiments led by Edmunds G. Diamond of the University of Kansas Medical Center in the 1950’s. His research involved the surgery to treat angina pectoris. He had a set of 18 patients suffering from this ailment have common surgery to relieve this symptom. In 13 of the patients, the doctors actually performed the operation, however in the other five, all they did was make an incision in the chest and sew it back up.
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about 76% felt better, however, in those only with incision, a whopping 100% success rate was accomplished. These findings, which were done before Browns’, simply show the repeatability of these types of experiments.
All of the aforementioned studies show one thing, the placebo effect. Those patients who benefited from the placebo drugs and operations were actually benefiting from themselves. They believed in their own minds that they felt better causing the body to react in similar fashion. This is what Dr. Brown set out to find. Was he successful? Yes, he was. He concisely showed that patients truly benefit from taking a placebo because they believe in the sugar pill which allows them to believe in themselves. Both of these put together cause the body react accordingly and make the patient feel better and the doctor to make money.