A placebo is a substance that has no real effect when applied, often in the field of medicine, even though the patient or subject believes it to be effective.
The Placebo Effect
The placebo effect is when a placebo is used on a patient or subject, and he or she believes that the substance will have an effect, makes the effect become real through other means, either mentally or through different actions taken. The power of suggestion can take a prominent role in this effect. One such example is:
- Bob is given a pill to reduce his anxiety, and told it's a powerful medicine. Bob expects the medicine to work, and starts to relax, and the more he relaxes, the more he believes it's working. Bob was given a sugar pill, and through his own attitude, relaxed by himself.
Placebo effect's importance to Science
The primary use of the placebo effect in science is disambiguation and falsification. Consider the following example:
- Russel claims that homeopathy is effective at curing various ailments. We can test the veracity of the claim by establishing a double-blind trial, between two groups, both of which have fevers. One is given Russel's homeopathic substance to cure fevers. The other is given a placebo - such as plain water. Both are told they were given medicine to cure the fevers. If the results show that both groups recover at similar rates, within an acceptable margin of error, then the test has shown that the homeopathic drug is no more effective than a non-medicine. Thus, it's claim to effectiveness is falsified.
The placebo effect, in this way, is an incredibly useful tool in science.