My favorite example of the placebo effect…

February 4th, 2009

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The placebo effect may not be able to actually cure health problems like cancer or infectious disease, but it sure can make a person think they are doing better. It’s actually quite surprising how compelling the effect can be, especially when the subject strongly believes that they have received a substance that will causes a perceptible physiological effect.

Of course, people also don’t like to be “outed” as having fallen for the effect. While there’s really no shame in it (it happens to the best of us), it’s still not hard to see how it could be pretty embarrassing, especially when it involves something like being drunk.

Yes, that’s right, and it’s also why I would not recommend trying this experiment at home – because it will get those involved pretty angry when and if they find out the ruse. People will display signs of drunkenness when they drink large amounts of non-alcoholic beer, believing it’s the standard stuff. It’s not even limited to just acting funny. Yes, people do, in fact, trip around, slur their speech and on occasion, even fall and hurt themselves. While non-alcoholic beer may contain some small amount of alcohol, it is generally not enough to cause intoxication and certainly not what you’ll see here.


It’s really a fascinating psychological effect. Of course, not everyone will be effected the same way. The placebo effect is not always reliable so you might end up with some confused individuals saying they never realized they had such a high tolerance because they don’t feel anything. That is the exception, however, and not the rule.

I really wonder, is there a higher incidence of automobile accidents in those who think they’re drunk? It wouldn’t surprise me if it were slightly elevated.

Of course, the placebo effect combined with the fact that most people don’t appreciate how compelling it can be is a big factor in the proliferation of quackery. Perhaps this kind of demonstration is worthwhile, even if it will cause a lot of people to feel pretty silly afterward.

Besides, I know some people who drink a little bit and then say or do things that they know they shouldn’t, even despite the fact that they still have enough sense to know better. The reason is simply that since everyone is drinking they can use that as an excuse. Sure they might have only had two drinks, but the next day said person might say something like “Oh I’m sooo sorry I grabbed your ass like that last night, but I was like.. totally wasted.”

Of course, I’d never do anything like that.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 at 12:10 am and is filed under Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, Good Science, media, Misc, Quackery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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12 Responses to “My favorite example of the placebo effect…”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    Isaac Asimov claimed he could get a little drunk just being around people that were drinking, despite the fact that he never drank alcohol himself, or so he said. Still as a relatively seasoned drinker myself, I am really curious to how I would react to something like this.


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  2. 2
    JKGr8 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    Isaac Asimov claimed he could get a little drunk just being around people that were drinking, despite the fact that he never drank alcohol himself, or so he said. Still as a relatively seasoned drinker myself, I am really curious to how I would react to something like this.

    Too bad it’s hard to arange for yourself. It would have to be something like having a friend who drinks with you spring it on you sometime, but it would need to be something totally unexpected is the problem. If you knew that there was a chance it would be tried I think that would ruin the effect entirely.

    One thing I’ve learned is not to assume you’re better than that, though. You might think you’re a seasoned drinker and too experienced and with it to fall for that kind of crap, but I realize not to trust anyone too much, not even my self.

    I hate to say it, but one time I was convinced I took some medication twice by mistake (i take it once in the morning.) I thought that I had taken it before and after breakfast by mistake and I started to feel like I was having the effects of an overdose, because if I take twice as much it can make me feel very tired and lethargic. I was totally convinced I was experiencing it until I counted the pills and realized that I must not have taken the extra one.


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

            JKGr8 said:

    One thing I’ve learned is not to assume you’re better than that, though. You might think you’re a seasoned drinker and too experienced and with it to fall for that kind of crap, but I realize not to trust anyone too much, not even my self.

    Quite the contrary actually, a negative result wouldn’t be interesting at all. A positive one on the other hand would fascinating. Anyway I suspect that only those who have had some experience being drunk could be fooled, as teetotalers wouldn’t have a reference to draw on.


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  4. 4
    An Actual Scientist Says:

    Funny, I have a similar story. I have a prescription for sleeping pills that i take only on rare occasions that I can’t get to sleep or need to be sure I get a full nights sleep. My experience was that they are extremely effective and I sleep like a log. One night I decided to take them because I felt a little restless like I wasn’t going to sleep well. So I went to bed and feel fast asleep within a short time. The next morning I got up and was thinking to myself how well that medication works in keeping me from being restless and getting a good full sleep. Then I walked into the bathroom and the two pills were sitting there next to a glass of water on the skin. I could have sworn I had a much quicker and deeper sleep than normal, like the sleep aid would give me, but I had completely forgotten to take it.


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  5. 5
    ciccio Says:

    Studies have also shown that the more expensive a placebo, the better it works. Red works much better than plain white.
    Homeopathy has shown beyond doubt that minds can trump matter.


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  6. 6
    Mockumenter Says:

    This subject has come up before in trying to decide what the procedure should be in informing the public of a potential chemical attack or some other circumstance where there could be health issues. Many people seem to think the idea of the government withholding information is a horrible scandalous thing and that if they think that they should inform the public of any information they have of dangers.

    There is a problem with this though. If there is an incident where there are initial reports of a chemical or bacteria released somewhere but they do not know the extent of the incident or even if it has been confirmed then telling an entire city that there may have been a problem and that it may make some people ill and they should get help can cause a much larger problem.

    This has happened before. An annonucement is made that there is evidence of contamination of a water supply or something and that anyone who feels dizzy/sick/tired/develops a rash or something should seek medical help. What do you think happens? Droves of people show the symptoms and think they need treatment. Afterward, it turns out the initial test was a false positive or that only a small area was in danger. However, the droves of people who run to the hospitals and everything can end up causing deaths directly or indirectly.

    The ironic thing is when this kind of thing has happened before, people are so sure that it must be and so unwilling to admit they were fooled that afterward they insist the preliminary report must have been right and later ones must be wrong.

    Silly how people can act. It takes you aback though because it shows that there’s a good argument to be made that sometimes the public can’t deal with the info and are best kept in the dark.


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  7. 7
    Burya Rubenstein Says:

    Could the placebo effect work in reverse? What about actually getting large quantities of alcohol into people without their having any reason to believe it’s happening? Could they effectively act and function as not-drunk in this case?


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  8. 8
    DV82XL Says:

            Burya Rubenstein said:

    Could the placebo effect work in reverse? What about actually getting large quantities of alcohol into people without their having any reason to believe it’s happening? Could they effectively act and function as not-drunk in this case?

    Alcohol is a powerful CNS depressant; it is unlikely that its effects could be overcome by ignorance of its presence.


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  9. 9
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Burya Rubenstein said:

    Could the placebo effect work in reverse? What about actually getting large quantities of alcohol into people without their having any reason to believe it’s happening? Could they effectively act and function as not-drunk in this case?

    I would doubt it. Alcohol is certainly not just the placebo effect – it does have some pretty potent nervous system effects. It’s possible that if a person were ignorant of its presence they might not notice the effects quite as quickly.


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  10. 10
    ciccio Says:

    I can guarantee there is no reverse effect. Made the unfortunate mistake of mixing gin from a decanter with ” Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial”. That was 50 years ago, I still shudder when I see the stuff.


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  11. 11
    maaz Says:

    There is a site that has examples of aura camera systems at http://www.auracamera.com that prints aura photos. Has anyone experienced this system?


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  12. 12
    Joe Somebody Says:

            maaz said:

    There is a site that has examples of aura camera systems at http://www.auracamera.com that prints aura photos. Has anyone experienced this system?

    Yeah, that stuff is all complete and utter bull****. It’s just a photographic effect caused by static buildup and it is meaningless. There is no ‘Aura’ it’s a scam and a dumb one.


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