Pessimism Can Block Medicine's Effects

Study subjects' pain fluctuates based on belief in treatment
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Feb 17, 2011 9:44 AM CST

(Newser) – Patients who think their medicine won’t work may find that is indeed the case—just because they thought as much, a study finds. Researchers attached subjects to IV drips and applied heat to their legs, asking them to rate the pain the heat caused them on a scale from 0 to 100. When the researchers secretly gave them a powerful painkiller, the average reported pain decreased from 66 to 55.

No surprise there. But when researchers informed subjects that they were getting the drug, their pain scores dropped to an average of 39. And when researchers said the painkiller had been cut off, the pain score hit 64—even though the painkiller was in fact still being administered at the same dose, the BBC reports. The conclusion? “Doctors need more time for consultation and to investigate the cognitive side of illness,” said a scientist. Right now, “the focus is on physiology, not the mind.”

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