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Papers of the Week

2004 Mar

Psychol Bull



The placebo effect: dissolving the expectancy versus conditioning debate.


Stewart-Williams S, Podd J
Psychol Bull. 2004 Mar; 130(2):324-40.
PMID: 14979775.


The authors review the literature on the 2 main models of the placebo effect: expectancy theory and classical conditioning. A path is suggested to dissolving the theoretical impasse that has long plagued this issue. The key is to make a clear distinction between 2 questions: What factors shape placebo effects? and What learning mediates the placebo effect? The reviewed literature suggests that classical conditioning procedures are one shaping factor but that verbal information can also shape placebo effects. The literature also suggests that conditioning procedures and other sources of information sometimes shape conscious expectancies and that these expectancies mediate some placebo effects; however, in other cases conditioning procedures appear to shape placebo effects that are not mediated by conscious cognition.