Questions for “Discovering the power of placebos”

You know taking medicine can help you feel better. But what if you take a pill that has no medicine in it? Sometimes that can make you feel better, too, thanks to something called the placebo effect.

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To accompany “Discovering the power of placebos


Before Reading:

1. Imagine a child you know well gets a minor injury, like a cut or scrape. What things other than giving medicine might you do to help them feel better?

2. Do you think taking a fake medicine for a headache could make it feel better? Why or why not?

During Reading:

1.  What is a placebo effect? What is a nocebo effect?

2.  What are two types of body processes that placebos can affect? What are three examples of medical conditions placebos can’t affect?

3.  How are placebos used in medical research?

4.  What long-time assumption about placebos did Ted Kaptchuk decide to test? How did he test it?

5.  What are open-label placebos? In Ulrike Bingel’s study of open-label placebos on chronic back pain, what improvements did patients report after taking the placebo? What things did not change after taking the placebo?

6.  In Anthony Lembo’s study, did skepticism about a placebo’s effectiveness affect whether people improved while taking the placebo?

7.  What chemical responses do placebos trigger in the brain?

8.  What strategy is Kathryn Hall using to try to understand why different people’s brains respond differently to placebos?

9.  In Bingel’s study of brain responses to pain medicine, how did people’s expectations affect their outcome?

10. What does Kaptchuk mean by the “therapeutic encounter”? How might it affect people’s health?

After Reading:

1.  Do you think doctors should be able to prescribe placebos to patients? Why or why not? Use evidence from the story to support your answer. If you answered yes, are there certain conditions under which you think they should not be allowed?

2.  In the story, Kathryn Hall says that a nocebo effect could be part of the reason that people of color currently experience worse health outcomes in the U.S. than white people. How might doctors and other healthcare workers use “therapeutic encounters” to improve health outcomes for people of color?