Understanding and harnessing placebo effects: Clearing away the underbrush

Franklin G. Miller, Howard Brody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Scopus citations


Despite strong growth in scientific investigation of the placebo effect, understanding of this phenomenon remains deeply confused. We investigate critically seven common conceptual distinctions that impede clear understanding of the placebo effect: (1) verum/placebo, (2) active/inactive, (3) signal/noise, (4) specific/nonspecific, (5) objective/subjective, (6) disease/illness, and (7) intervention/context. We argue that some of these should be eliminated entirely, whereas others must be used with caution to avoid bias. Clearing away the conceptual underbrush is needed to lay down a path to understanding and harnessing placebo effects in clinical medicine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-78
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2011


  • clinical medicine
  • placebo effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy

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