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October 15, 1997

The Placebo Effect: An Interdisciplinary Exploration

Author Affiliations

Brown University School of Medicine Providence, RI


edited by Anne Harrington, 256 pp, $39.95, ISBN 0-674- 66984-3, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1997.

JAMA. 1997;278(15):1291-1292. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550150099050

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


Centuries of clinical experience show that placebos benefit a wide range of afflictions. And research over the past few decades has identified some of the mechanisms behind the placebo effect. But the health care community has yet to embrace and harness this important part of healing. The placebo response—more descriptively, response to the treatment situation—continues to be unwanted and disparaged. Why does the placebo response have such a dubious reputation? Why have we not embraced this important part of healing?

The term "placebo" itself comes with unfortunate baggage. Latin for "I shall please," by the 14th century placebo had become a pejorative term meaning flatterer, sycophant, toady. When it entered medical terminology in the 19th century, the pejorative meaning stuck. Placebo was defined as a medicine given to please patients rather than to benefit them. Placebo continues to imply deception, fakery, and ineffectiveness.

But one of the things most