Identifying Placebo Effects with Data from Clinical Trials
A medical treatment is said to have placebo effects if patients who are optimistic about the treatment respond better to the treatment. This paper proposes a simple test for placebo effects. Instead of comparing the treatment and control arms of a single trial, one should compare the treatment arms of two trials with different probabilities of assignment to treatment. If there are placebo effects, patients in the higher-probability trial will experience better outcomes simply because they believe that there is a greater chance of receiving treatment. This paper finds evidence of placebo effects in trials of antiulcer and cholesterol-lowering drugs.