Analgesic placebo treatment perceptions: acceptability, efficacy, and knowledge

J Pain. 2012 Sep;13(9):891-900. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.06.003. Epub 2012 Jul 31.


Current evidence supports the efficacy of placebo analgesia and illustrates that patients may be open to placebo use despite uncertainty regarding its mechanisms. Debate persists, however, concerning the ethics of placebo treatments. The purpose of the present web-based study was to expand upon the empirical literature on placebo analgesia ethics and acceptability. Participants (n = 100) provided their definition of a placebo and responded to 24 questions addressing placebo analgesia perceived knowledge, acceptability, effectiveness, and likelihood of placebo use among different health care providers. Results support previous research on the effects of placebo on negative mood and health care provider attributions, with findings illustrating that negative consequences of administration were largely mitigated by a beneficial treatment outcome. Results showed that participants conceptualized placebo as predominately inert and were mixed regarding interpretations of placebo effectiveness. Though acceptability ratings were dependent on the context of placebo administration, participants endorsing even moderate placebo acceptability were more open to placebo interventions and reported overall more positive treatment outcomes. Participants believed that placebos were used differentially among health care providers. Additional studies are needed to determine if placebo education can beneficially impact perceptions of placebo analgesia knowledge, acceptability, and treatment effectiveness.

Perspective: This study presents an examination of analgesic placebo treatment perceived acceptability, efficacy, and knowledge among lay individuals. Our findings highlight the importance of assessing placebo conceptualizations and treatment perceptions in evaluating placebo ethics-a highly relevant finding that informs the clinical use of placebo components in managing pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Management
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Perception / drug effects*
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics