Research in the Social Sciences

A highly innovative feature of the PiPS team is that it includes anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists. Many experiments combine quantitative and qualitative methods of data gathering and often involve detailed interviews to better understand patients’ viewpoints of their experience. Until recently, this patient-centered data has been largely ignored in placebo research. Furthering our social science research agenda is a high priority of PiPS. To date:

  • Our psychological team, headed by Drs. Irving Kirsch and John Kelley, has produced major studies related to the psychology of placebo, including studies examining response to placebo in relation to the psychological makeup of patients and practitioners, the stability of the placebo effect and psychological processes involved in the nocebo effect.
  • Our anthropological team has examined patients’ cultural narratives while on placebo treatment.
  • Our sociological team has analyzed demographic variables associated with placebo responses.

Related publications:

Bishop FL, Jacobson EE, Shaw J, Kaptchuk TJ.  Scientific tools, fake treatments or triggers for psychological healing: How RCT participants conceptualize placebos.  Soc Sci Med 2012.

Bishop FL, Jacobson EE, Shaw J, Kaptchuk TJ.  Debriefing to placebo allocation: A phenomenological sudy of participants’ experiences in a randomized controlled trial. Qualitative Hlth Res Aug 2012.

Bishop FL, Adams AEM, Kaptchuk TJ, Lewith GT (2012) Informed Consent and Placebo Effects: A Content Analysis of Information Leaflets to Identify What Clinical Trial Participants are Told about Placebos.  PLoS ONE 7(6): e39661.

Mazzoni, G et al. The effects of observation and gender on psychogenic symptoms. Health Psychology, 2010; 29(2), 181-185.

Conboy LA et al.  Which patients improve characteristics increasing sensitivity to a supportive patient-practitioner relationship. Soc Sci Med 2010; 70: 479-84.

Kelley JM et al.  Patient and practitioner influences on the placebo effect in irritable bowel syndrome.  Psychosomatic Medicine 2009; 71: 789-797.

Kaptchuk TJ et al. ”Maybe I made up the whole thing:” Placebos and patients’ experiences in a randomized controlled trial.  Culture Med Psych 2009a; 33: 382-412.

Whalley, B et al. Consistency of the placebo effect. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2008; 64, 537-541.

Lorber, W et al. Illness by Suggestion: Expectancy, Modeling, and Gender in the Production of Psychosomatic Symptoms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2007; 33, 112-116.


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