People who can control emotions most likely to respond to placebo effect
People who are able to regulate their emotions and negative feelings are the most likely to respond well to the placebo effect, a study carried out by the University of Luxembourg has shown.
The study also shows placebos can cause real biological changes in the body and aren't necessarily linked to bogus treatment but can be triggered by seeing a white coat, previous experiences with a treatment or seeing signs of medical authority.
Placebo effect is a phenomenon where fake treatment can help improve a medical condition because the patient believes it will help and not because of the medical component of the drug or treatment.
The pioneering study used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology and researchers from the university worked in collaboration with the ZithaKlinik to find out how different regions of the brain respond to a placebo.
Participants were asked to look at images which create negative emotions and come up with ideas or interpretations which made them feel more positive about the image. Researchers measured how well participants managed to do this.
They were then put in an MRI scanner and received painful heat stimuli on their arms. Cream was applied to their arms and participants were told the product was a powerful pain-relieving cream, but in reality it was a simple skin moisturiser.
"All participants reported less pain - the placebo effect was working," Dr Marian van der Meulen, neuropsychologist at the University of Luxembourg said. "Interestingly, those with a higher capacity to control their negative feelings showed the largest responses to the placebo cream in the brain.
"Their activity in those brain regions that process pain was most reduced. This suggests that your ability to regulate emotions affects how strong your response to a placebo will be."
Dr van der Meulen explained brain scans showed that specific regions in the brain react when a person receives a placebo and as a result experiences less pain.
"The regions in the brain that process pain become less active, which demonstrates that the placebo effect is real," she said. "But the psychological mechanism is still very little understood, and it is unclear why some people show a much stronger placebo response than others. We suspected that the way we can regulate our emotions plays a role and set out to investigate this."
(Heledd Pritchard, firstname.lastname@example.org, +352 49 93 459)