What you don't know can help you: An activating placebo effect in spider phobia.

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Date: Feb. 2022
Publisher: Elsevier Science Publishers
Document Type: Report; Brief article
Length: 347 words

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Abstract :

Keywords Placebo effect; Placebo intervention; Phobia; Fear; Self-efficacy Highlights * We demonstrate a new psychological phenomenon: an activating placebo effect * A placebo disguised as an active drug induces people to overcome their impairment * The disguised placebo made phobic persons more willing to approach a live tarantula * The same persons actually moved closer to the tarantula and experienced less fear of it * The disguised placebo improved phobic persons' confidence about tolerating their fears Abstract Despite being an inert treatment, placebo has been repeatedly shown to induce the experience of automatic symptom relief, a therapeutic effect over which a person has no control. We tested whether a placebo that participants believed was an active drug would induce them to take action to overcome their symptomatic impairment, a self-efficacious role we term an activating placebo effect. Specifically, we tested whether a placebo presented to spider-phobic participants as a fear-reducing drug would induce them to approach a live tarantula. Sixty spider-phobic participants, identified by a fear questionnaire and assessing their approach behavior toward a live tarantula, were randomized to take a placebo, presented either as propranolol or a placebo, or to a no-treatment control group. Participants who believed the placebo was propranolol increased in their willingness to approach the tarantula, and actually moved physically closer to it, relative to the other two groups. They did so despite experiencing higher levels of fear, and subsequently improved in their self-efficacy beliefs about tolerating fear when encountering a spider. Changes in willingness to approach the tarantula mediated changes in approach behavior, which in turn mediated changes in self-efficacy. These results represent the first explicit demonstration of an activating placebo effect. Author Affiliation: (a) Purchase College, SUNY, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, USA (b) Children's Hospital Los Angeles & Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, USA * Corresponding author. Department of Psychology, Purchase College, SUNY, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, NY, 10577, USA. Article History: Received 10 February 2021; Revised 3 September 2021; Accepted 3 November 2021 Byline: Paul Siegel [paul.siegel@purchase.edu] (a,*), Bradley S. Peterson (b)

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A690387989