The placebo puzzle: putting together the pieces

Health Psychol. 2004 Mar;23(2):198-206. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.23.2.198.


This article outlines and assesses the main theories of the placebo effect and suggests how they might sit together in a larger model of placebo etiology. Among the approaches considered are expectancy theory, emotional change theory, classical conditioning, and the biological approach. Although these are sometimes assumed to be competing models, in many cases they shed light on different pans of the placebo puzzle. Expectancies are the core of most placebo effects in human beings. The effects of expectancies are sometimes unmediated but in other cases are mediated by changes in emotional state, immune system function, perception, or behavior. Although expectancies are implicated in most placebo effects, a small number of placebo effects may be solely attributable to nonconscious contingency learning.

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Psychological Theory*