How blind is blind? Assessment of patient and doctor medication guesses in a placebo-controlled trial of imipramine and phenelzine

Psychiatry Res. 1986 Sep;19(1):75-86. doi: 10.1016/0165-1781(86)90094-6.


The purpose of the double blind is to protect the internal validity of a clinical trial by preventing knowledge of treatment conditions from influencing outcome or its assessment. We studied medication guesses of 137 depressed patients and/or their doctors at the end of a 6-week randomized trial of placebo, imipramine, and phenelzine. Overall, 78% of the patients and 87% of the doctors correctly distinguished between placebo and active medication. Clinical outcome, treatment condition, and their interaction each contributed to guessing accuracy, while medication experience and side effects assessed only in week 6 did not. Accuracy was high, however, even when cases were stratified for clinical outcome, indicating that other cues were available to the patients and doctors. These may include patterns and timing of side effects and clinical response not detectable in this end-point analysis.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cues
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method / standards*
  • Humans
  • Imipramine / adverse effects
  • Imipramine / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patients / psychology
  • Phenelzine / adverse effects
  • Phenelzine / therapeutic use*
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Random Allocation
  • Research Design / standards*


  • Phenelzine
  • Imipramine