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Placebo Effect

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Armand: What are you giving him? Drugs? What the hell are "Pirin" tablets?!
Agador: It's aspirin with the "a" and the "s" scraped off.
Armand: [beat] My God, what a brilliant idea.

The placebo effect refers to the fact that patients typically experience some improvement in their symptoms after receiving treatment ... even when the 'treatment' is something completely useless for their condition (stereotypically, sugar pills). The most common use is in drug trials, in which a control group is given a placebo, to compare the effects in case the drug actually is only effective due to the placebo effect, or is even worse. note 

The opposite is the nocebo effect, where patients report side effects, despite not having received anything that could genuinely cause those side effects.

For more information, as well as modern medicine's best guesses as to why exactly this happens, see The Other Wiki's article.

See Magic Feather in terms of the plot. A more realistic version of Clap Your Hands If You Believe. May figure into aversions of No Control Group. Related to Brand Names Are Better. If the person prescribing the placebo knows it's fake, it may be a Motivational Lie. Compare All-Natural Snake Oil and Spice Rack Panacea for "natural" remedies that often prove to be placebos. It can be considered a form of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. When this works on Applied Phlebotinum, it's (naturally enough) the Placebotinum Effect. Compare Fake High for when this happens with intoxicants.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei:
    • One chapter has a field day with this trope, including Nozomu taking a placebo drug and breaking out in hives from the percieved side effects, Stalker with a Crush Matoi forcing Nozomu to take a fake Love Pill, only for the effect to work on her instead when she's the only one convinced that it worked, and Nozomu eventually getting fake surgery performed on him to get rid of the fake side effects from the fake drug he took at the start, and ending up convinced that he's been turned into an android.
    • The chapter also does some Leaning on the Fourth Wall, by introducing a sticker that, if you stick it to a manga, makes it six times funnier. Immediately the sticker starts showing up more and more, until the last two pages are covered in them.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, when Kenshin was a child training with his master Hiko Seijuro XIII, Hiko fed him what he claimed was a miracle medicine to help him recover from a snake bite. Years later, when Kenshin heavily injures Hiko while completing his training, Kenshin feeds him the "medicine". When he recovers, he explains that the "medicine" was just water and herbs.
  • Ranma ½: In an early arc, when Ryouga is losing badly to Ranma, Nabiki turns the tide with some pills. She tells him that they're steroids, and will vastly increase his strength. In actual fact, they were just vitamin tablets, but Ryouga still experiences a huge burst of strength and determination after swallowing them.
  • Dr. STONE: Throughout the Grand Bout, Ginro is seen chewing on leaves. The leaves are an ingredient to a drink Senku concocted as a form of improvised doping, which Ginro also drank before anyone else could. Ginro is convinced that if the original drink was point, the raw ingredients should be even more so. Senku stops Chrome from telling him all the raw ingredients will do is give him the runs, citing a combination of this being Ginro's first time ever being hopped up on the caffeine he's been ingesting and his own gullibility convincing him he's invincible. Indeed, Ginro wins... and immediately runs off in a Potty Emergency from the aforementioned runs.
  • Bleach: Hanataro regularly takes energy pills to refresh himself. It is revealed that the pills work, but Squad 4 swapped his pills with fake ones filled with flour as a prank.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In Asterix in Britain, despite the heroes best effords, they fail to bring any magic potion to Anticlimax's village. Asterix then gets the idea to brew a potion from the herbs Getafix gave him - he doesn't know if they'll be magical, but it might encourage the village's warriors. Sure enough, the placebo effect works, the Romans are defeated, and Mykingdomforanos decides to make the concoction the national drink. The name of the plant? Tea.

    Fan Works 

  • A Certain Droll Hivemind: From "Guest Entry - Mikoto": Mikoto, annoyed that she can't just hack into Kuroko's radio chatter to figure out when she needs help, wonders if she can trick Uiharu (Kuroko's security expert) into giving up some secrets using a Fake High this way.
    Hmm. Note to self - buy Uiharu some rum and raisin ice cream and see if that has a placebo effect that gets her tipsy so she talks about how she implemented it. It's starting to get on my nerves that I can't reliably listen in.
  • God Help the Outcasts: A variant. To give Susan hope, Dr. Cockroach begins a series of experiments that he tells her may help her return to a normal size. While they do help him learn a bit about how the Quantonium has altered her body, they don't tell him anything about how to reduce her size, nor did he ever expect them to. When he eventually tells her the truth, she's hurt but understands.
  • "Tripping Balls is a The Man from U.N.C.L.E. "Five Things" Fic detailing the effects of six different Fantastic Drugs.note  The first five drugs are "The Soporific," "The Irritant," "The Deliriant," "The Disinhibitor," and "The Aphrodisiac." As for the sixth, Napoleon tries to gauge its effect on him but can't place it. That's because it's this trope.

    Films — Animation 
  • Kronk's New Groove: Yzma has Kronk sell a youth potion to a bunch of elderly villagers, but the youth potion is a fake. The old people still think the potion works mostly due to this effect. They ultimately realize that they're only as old as they feel.
  • Kung Fu Panda has Ping's "Secret Ingredient Soup". As he confides in Po later in the movie, there actually is no secret ingredient; it's just plain old noodle soup. It's the thought there is one that makes people believe it's so special. It's this bit of info that helps Po understand the Dragon Scroll's meaning, which itself falls under a similar philosophy.

    Films — Live Action 
  • In EuroTrip, two of the characters order brownies at an Amsterdam bakery run by a Dreadlock Rasta. They immediately become stoned beyond belief...until the Dreadlock Rasta calmly informs them that they're not hash brownies.
  • The protagonist of Matchstick Men, who has severe OCD, is given a packet of pills by his psychiatrist that apparently heals him. Around the same time, he starts bonding with his long-lost daughter. He eventually learns that the pills are just soy menopause supplements, and that bonding with his daughter has given his life meaning and helped him overcome his neurosis.
  • The Birdcage: Albert's "Pirin tablets" — he seems to think they're some kind of powerful anti-anxiety medication; they are in fact Aspirin with two letters scraped off. They seem to do the job, though, and even though they're relatively benign, Agador still firmly makes sure to limit Albert's intake.
  • Implied in The Pale Blue Eye. After discovering that the children of Dr. Marquis stole a heart from a corpse for a black magic ritual to cure his daughter's epilepsy, Landor demands to know why he, a man of learning and medicine, went along with this. Dr. Marquis protests that his daughter appeared to get better afterwards. Of course, with the inevitable relapse his daughter is only more desperate to try the ritual again, this time by taking the heart of a living person.
  • In Space Jam, the Tune Squad has completely given up hope of winning their basketball game against the Monstars until Bugs Bunny gives them 'Michael's Secret Stuff', which buffs them up and gives them the confidence to get back in the game. Of course, the real secret is that it is just water.
  • Subverted in The Exorcist. In one scene, a priest douses the demon-posessed protagonist with tap water and claims that it's holy water, but the protagonist screams in pain anyway. Later, though, it's implied that the demon only pretended to be fooled so that the priests would think that the "possession" was purely psychological and wouldn't try to exorcise it. When the priests douse the protagonist with real holy water in the climactic exorcism scene, the screams are real and the water leaves visible burns.
  • An inadvertent psychotherapy version appears in What About Bob?: Bob's new therapist gives him a copy of his book Baby Steps, which is about setting small, attainable goals. Bob completely misses the point and thinks that he has to physically take small steps wherever he goes. However, Bob's focus on taking "baby steps" when he gets nervous helps distract him from his fears and allows him to do things he wasn't able to do before.
  • In 50 First Dates, Adam Sandler's character starts out seducing women by getting them drunk on fruit beverages they only think are alcoholic.
  • À l'aventure: Greg hypnotizes Mina to feel a coin on her skin as burning. Later it turns out that the effect caused a real but painless burn. Greg says it's very rare for such a thing to occur, saying Mina is exceptional since this happened.

  • Belle Praters Boy: During a party, Gypsy's mother makes a drink called Peach Ice (ice cubes, peach soda, and vanilla ice cream) for her guests. Woodrow personally serves a rude lady her drinks. Throughout the party, the woman becomes friendlier and much less inhibited, to the point that she takes off her shoes and goes running through a creek. Woodrow tells Gypsy that he told the woman he was putting a little gin in her drinks, making her believe she was getting drunk. In actuality, he never did; he just wanted to see if she believed him.
  • After Cain is wounded in a battle and loses most of his right hand in the Ciaphas Cain series, he notes a few times that the cybernetic replacement fingers give him a steadier grip on his pistol as they don't tremble as much when he aims. His editor comments in a footnote that the trembling of a shooter's hand is mostly caused by their own heartbeat, and thus cybernetic fingers wouldn't affect it at all - but if he feels more confident in his aim, so much the better.
  • In It:
    • It is revealed that Eddie Kaspbrak's asthma is psychosomatic, and his medication is a placebo.
    • Interestingly, since the power of belief is what actually harms IT, Eddie's placebo "asthma spray" harms IT and drives IT back. Even though Eddie knew by this point that the medicine was a placebo, he still subconsciously believed that it could keep harm away from him, and so the spray repelled IT.
  • Captain Underpants thinks his powers are neutralized if he's sprayed with spray starch. So Harold and George hastily draw up a new origin story comic claiming he swallowed a powerful artifact with the ability to neutralize spray starch. George almost mentions it by name, calling it the "placenta effect".
  • In the Discworld books, this is usually how witches help people; they do something mundane but make people think that powerful magic is being used.
    • In one example, Granny Weatherwax is taking care of someone with a bad back, and while he's distracted figuring out how to use her potion, she cracks his back into alignment with her foot.
    • The witches have also done the sinister version, like the one who discovered a thief had stolen from her and did nothing but give him some very knowing looks; he ended up so frightened of her he ran away to sea.
    • Most of the time, Granny Weatherwax's colored sugar water works better than her fellow witch Magrat's carefully brewed herbal remedies; this is why Granny is the better witch. Lords and Ladies points out the Logical Weakness in Granny's approach: the placebo effect doesn't work on patients in a coma. Granny goes to Magrat for help, because even though Granny is the better witch, Magrat is the better doctor.
  • Footprints on the Ceiling: Madame Rappourt invokes this trope when Linda Skelton begs her to let her try some of the medium's "trance capsules". Because Rappourt doesn't know if the morphine and scopolamine combo she takes is safe for Linda, she hands over sugar-filled capsules instead. note 
  • The micro-lepton gun in Spoonbenders is no more effective against psychics than a child's toy. It only works on Buddy because everyone says the toy suppresses psychic powers and he believes them.
  • Villains by Necessity: Valerie "enchants" an amulet to protect Robin from the walls closing in on him. The incantation includes the word "placebo". Blackmail finds this quite funny.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Crown (2016). Against the advice of his personal doctor, King George VI is not informed that he has cancer because his staff think that he'll last longer if he believes that he's getting better. Never mind that the King might have to make crucial decisions like preparing his daughter Elizabeth to succeed him earlier than she expected. Fortunately his doctor does reveal the truth when the King asks why he's still coughing up Blood from the Mouth when he's supposedly on the road to recovery.
  • The Red Green Show had an episode where the lodge members were part of a test-market for an energy bar, making them very active and becoming addicted. When the test batch ran out, they reverted back to normal, only for Harold to reveal all they got was a basic granola bar to gauge product interest, due to the real stuff being too dangerous. Red, taking this as proof of the strength of his mind, salvages one of the test sample bars and tells his wife at home to wait up that night.
  • In an episode of Frasier, Niles eats a normal brownie thinking it's a pot brownie, with the reverse situation for Martin. Hilarity Ensues.
  • One time on M*A*S*H they run out of morphine so they give the patients, many with compound fractures, sugar pills telling them it's a strong painkiller. The ploy works (though helped with ice packs and sleeping pills).
    • The B-plot from the same episode has the MASH experiencing a heat wave that makes everyone miserable. They give Klinger some of the sugar pills claiming they're some sort of new drug that will allow him to feel cooler. He spends the rest of the episode in his regular uniform while everyone else is wearing undershirts.
  • The Suite Life on Deck: Bailey uses a placebo to raise London's intelligence. After realizing that it's a placebo, London returns to normal. Then she takes another placebo.
  • On The Big Bang Theory, Raj is unable to talk to women unless he's drunk. In "The Terminator Decoupling," the guys are on a train when they discover that Summer Glau is in the same car, and they all try to hit on her. Raj drinks copious amounts of beer before going over to talk with her, and she actually seems to like him. Then Howard walks over and informs him that it was non-alcoholic beer. He clams up and walks away without another word.
  • Referred to when the MythBusters tested seasickness cures. To be certain that Adam and Grant weren't subconsciously skewing the test results, Jamie gave each of them an "over-the-counter medicine" that was actually a vitamin pill. (Grant fell for the placebo, but Adam got sick just as fast as in the other tests.)
    • There's a nocebo when they're testing "Driving Angry"; part of Kari's plan to get Grant and Tori really angry before they drive is to give them "laxatives", also actually vitamin pills, which she tells them about afterwards. The fake laxatives weren't enough to make them actually have a Potty Emergency, but being worried about them added to the stress they were feeling.
  • In the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "Flowers For Charlie," dim-witted Charlie is given a drug by scientists to boost his intelligence. Charlie is soon shown speaking Mandarin, working on equations and romancing women. At a big presentation, Charlie announces his massive breakthrough: allowing cats and spiders to talk to each other. The scientists then reveal there is no drug, the experiment was to see what would happen if someone thought they were now a genius. Charlie demands to know how he can speak Mandarin only to have the Chinese scientist state that Charlie has just been spouting gibberish and he's pretended to understand it. The gang actually point out how stupid an experiment this is as they storm out.
  • In Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, the Turtles have a recurring team of foes that once used a magic formula to enhance their abilities. The effect ended when the turtles pointed out the 'magic' was just a placebo.
  • Used when NewsRadio parodied Flowers for Algernon. Joe makes Matthew a "Smart Drink", which works until Matthew gets smart enough to realise it's only working because he thinks it will.
    Matthew: It's like when Wile E Coyote runs off a cliff. He can stay standing in mid-air until he looks down.
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode "Yoga, Tantric Sex, Etc." featured a man trying to explain why herbs work for some people and not for others. Penn summed up the entire argument in one sentence.
    Penn: If you believe they work, they work. If you don't, they don't. You hardly ever hear that about penicillin.
  • UK comedy show Smack the Pony has this in one sketch, with a rather inept and lazy doctor. When her patient points out that saying she's going to give her a placebo will negate the effect, she attempts to evade embarrassment by writing down a made-up drug name on the prescription. (Interestingly, some real life studies into the placebo effect have found evidence it can work even if the patient knows they're being given a placebo.)
  • ER has an episode when this was intended to be done without the patient's consent. A doctor examines a patient finds nothing wrong but the child and her parents are worried, so the doctor orders the intern to get a bottle of "Obecalp" for the patient. The intern is confused and walks off the their big book of medicines and cannot find it. When a Dr. Weaver, a higher rank than the previous doctor, hears what the intern is looking for, she angrily explains the implications and goes to the first doctor. She chews him out for this stunt because if it goes south, they could be sued for negligence and tricking the patients with their medicine, to say nothing of just public backlash.
  • Houdini & Doyle: Faith healings turn out to be caused by this, as many people claim is really the case.
  • On NCIS: New Orleans, Sebastian is panicked being on a boat so Tammy gives him some "Chinese herbs" to calm him down. Sebastian is able to take down an attacker and thinks the herbs must have given him a boost. He rants on more side effects so Tammy tells him that all she gave him was some cold medication. Sebastian thus realizes he really did take that guy down on his own.
    Patton: You got placeboed, man!
  • Blake's 7: The Cult Colony on the penal planet Cygnus Alpha in the episode of the same name requires everyone to take a medicine for the rest of their lives, to fight off a disease that infects anyone who lands on the planet. Turns out the disease is only a mild infection that the body quickly adapts to, and the 'drug' is just a placebo the cult leader uses to maintain control over the potentially unruly prisoners.
  • 7 Yüz: The hypnotic "treatment" Oşa gives Pınar in "Hayatın Musikisi" is nothing but a placebo — it only makes her feel confident and empowered because she believes it does.
    Oşa: You hear it because you believe that you do. There is no song. I only made you believe that it would cure you.
  • Discussed in one episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, where Sabrina is having a disagreement with her aunts, and the Witch Council shows her two alternate futures, one where she lives with Hilda, one where she lives with Zelda. In Zelda's future, Sabrina is scientifically-focused and dispensing an anti-aging treatment to Alpha Bitch Libby (after making her beg for it, which Sabrina enjoys). Then Mr. Kraft walks in with comically exaggerated wrinkles and says "Be honest, I'm getting the placebo, aren't I?" To which future Sabrina admits he might be in "group C," which is actually receiving an aging potion.
  • Probe's "Quit-It": Baxton has created a new anti-addiction pill, called "Quit-It". When Mickey and Austin are tied up by the adults, they try to convince him to take it, claiming that it will change their lives, cure insecurities, eliminate bad habits, boost ambition, strength, improve their health and intelligence, "anything you want".
  • iCarly (2021) episode "iMLM" deals with Carly's ex-boyfriend Griffin recruiting her into a multi-level marketing scam which sells a supplement called "Sand". Carly, Spencer and Freddie all end up taking it in order to deal with their character flaws. Carly takes "Calming Sand" so that she'll be less high-strung, Freddie takes "Bravery Sand" in order to start standing up for himself and Spencer takes "Sensitivity Sand" in order to be less self-centered. The Sand seems to be working for all three, but Harper and Millicent discover that it's actually fish food. While Carly freaks out upon finding out the truth, Freddie and Spencer are delighted to discover that they really are capable of the things they were doing.

  • "Sugar Pills" by I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME is, as the title implies, about the singer realizing that his medications are placebo pills, after he takes as many of them as he can.
    Seven, eight, nine.
    I'm losing count again.
    Maybe they don't work at all.
    Swallow every one of them.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one Gil Thorp storyline, a player on the basketball team pressurized Bobby, the ADHD student team manager, into giving him Adderall. Bobby gave him asprin with the logo sanded off, and the ruse wasn't discovered until Gil got wind of it and Bobby had to explain that of course he hadn't really given him Adderall.

    Video Games 
  • Metal Gear:
    • In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Snake can find muscle relaxant drugs on the Tanker. Calling up Otacon to find out their function leads to him explaining that they eliminate hand shakes with sniper rifles... but that there doesn't appear to be any sniper rifles there, so Snake might try them if he's feeling seasick. Taking them causes the nauseating up-down motion of the in-game camera to gently lessen and then stop. If Snake then calls up Otacon, he reports that his seasickness is gone, to which Otacon bemusedly replies that the drug doesn't do that and he's experiencing the placebo effect.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, if Snake finds Russian Glowcaps, he is convinced they will recharge the batteries on his equipment. His radio contacts assure him that this is stupid. If you try eating them anyway, the batteries on his equipment will recharge, and reporting back to Para-Medic causes Sigint to suggest the placebo effect as an explanation (since neither of them have a better one). After agreeing that it is, and that it could be really useful, they both assure him that "of course eating glowing mushrooms will recharge your batteries" in a very patronizing tone.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Cloud doesn't get motion sickness until he sorts out his memories enough to remember that he always gets motion sickness - although a Dummied Out scene reveals that he's cool with it, as a trade-off for being who he really is. (He also doesn't get sick if he's driving or 'nervous'.)
  • Final Fantasy Tactics A2: the Bangaa-exclusive Tricker job makes use of the nocebo effect in Status Infliction Attacks: Hypochondria convinces the target that they have been poisoned and Shadow of Doubt undermines the target's confidence, immobilizing them.
  • A hilarious meta nocebo example happened in League of Legends one time when patch notes announced nerfs to the over-performing champion Vladimir, only for the balance team to forget to actually add the files that would nerf Vladimir to the patch. Vladimir's win rate still fell after the release of the patch regardless of the fact that his abilities hadn't changed.

    Web Comics 
  • Ape, Not Monkey regularly expresses the opinion that alternative medicines, if they appear to work at all, are just placebos.
  • Schlock Mercenary: There's this gem during an enemy False Flag Operation:note 
    Murtaugh: Kathtryn, be brilliant. Tell me what the enemy has planned in order to prevent live capture.
    Kathryn: I'm already working on that. I just need a little quiet.
    Sorlie: You can order people to be brilliant?
    Murtaugh: Shh... as long as they think I can, I get pretty good results.
  • Once in S.S.D.D. Norman fell asleep before his eyes could even close after taking some random pills that Kingston claimed were sleeping pills, but were really just aspirin. And apparently Anne once conned another hour of sex out of Richard with some sugar pills.
  • Spoofed several times in xkcd:
    • In this strip the narrator confesses that he trolls scientific studies by secretly giving LSD to the control group, "which, at one point, led to a study showing that LSD produces no more hallucinations than a placebo."
    • This strip points out that while the placebo effect works well with things such as pills, it's a little harder to apply to scientific studies of, say, sexual activity.
    • This strip demonstrates the Logic Bomb that results from trying to apply The Scientific Method to a study of the placebo effect: how can you run a valid experiment if you have to use placebos to make a control group? note 

    Web Original 
  • In one Good Mythical Morning video, Rhett and the rest of the Good Mythical Morning crew played a prank on Link by telling him that they would be testing out a new pill purported to reduce the spicy taste of food. In reality, these pills were fake and Rhett ate food that only looked spicy to be able to act like the pills were working for him while Link had to eat actually-spicy food. However, Link was fooled into believing that the pills really were helping reduce the spiciness he tasted from his food even when he ate a ghost pepper, one of the hottest peppers in the world.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of the Dilbert cartoon, Dogbert created bottles of placebo medicine that work even when the user knows it's a placebo, helping Dilbert get over the cold he had in The Stinger. That, and the people he's giving them to are usually too stupid to realize what a placebo is.
    Dogbert: That's precisely the power of the placebo.
  • The Simpsons: The Crazy Cat Lady once regained her sanity thanks to a medication but lost it when she learned it was a placebo.
  • In the Handy Manny segment "Fearless Rusty", Lovable Coward Rusty is sprinkled with "magic dust" by a local magician, who claimed it would make him brave... and he believes it.
  • Hey Arnold!: In "Helga's Love Potion" Helga bought an anti-love potion that successfully killed her feelings for Arnold. She eventually tries to reverse it by going back to the seller, who admits it was just grape juice.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Leap of Faith", the Flim Flam brothers start hawking a new cure-all miracle tonic that helps Granny Smith start feeling better. Then Applejack finds out that it's just apple juice with beet leaves added, and the rest of the episode revolves around her trying to figure out if she should tell everyone the treatment is a fake, or keep it under wraps so Granny keeps feeling good. She eventually decides to bust them because they vastly overstate the curative properties (up to implying that it can fix broken limbs), causing Granny to attempt to high-dive. A placebo might help her feel better, but it's not actually curing anything.
  • King of the Hill: In "Tankin' It To The Street", Dale thought the military had subjected Bill to experiments that made him gain weight, meaning they're responsible for his life going downhill. However, later on Dale mentions that the drug was named "Place-bo", which makes Hank realize that there was no drug and Bill's poor health was his own fault.
  • This is sort of in play in The Batman with the episode "Strange New World". Hugo Strange claims he created a toxin that turns people into zombies and drops a vial to "cure" Batman and Robin before releasing it. In reality, Strange doses the Dynamic Duo with a hallucinogen and made them think they were in a Zombie Apocalypse.

    Real Life 
  • Chiropractic adjustments are controversial, owing to the fact that there's little scientific proof that the person doing an adjustment (technically a Doctor of Chiropractic, since they aren't actually medical doctors) is doing anything other than basic decompression of the spine. But because these 'doctors' are very good at convincing people they'll feel better, they do tend to feel better.
  • Acupuncture also has very little proof that it is effective (yes, they are able to do studies with needles that look like they are inserted, but actually are not), but people really believe that it helps them.
  • Therapeutic Touch therapy and its "Eastern" equivalent, reiki, worked through this effect as well - it's so easily debunked that a 9-year old girl was able to do it, as seen here.
  • Homeopathy may fool many people due to the placebo effect, despite the fact that it would have to utterly violate some of the most basic laws of physics and chemistry in order to work. (In the words of the 1023 Campaign, "Homeopathy: There's Nothing In It".)
    • Homeopathy "works" in accordance to The Laws of Magic (specifically, law of similarity and law of contagion). So, maybe not in our reality...
  • Pretty much all pseudoscientific "treatments" depend on this. They are mostly (not entirely, but mostly) directed toward the relief of (chronic) pain, which is one of the most incredibly subjective things on the planet to attempt to measure. Also, Your Mind Makes It Real - anxiety and loneliness can make you ache, and feeling looked after may help. And if you're willing to pay a quack money to look after you, the quack is more than willing to take it.
  • Guess why the pharmaceutical industry spends more money on advertising than research.
  • This actually plays a role in genuine scientific research, since clinical trials for drugs usually involve a double-blind study, in which half of the participants are given placebos to serve as a control group. For a drug to be approved, it has to perform demonstrably better than the placebo, as presumably a drug (or even surgical procedure) that works no better than a placebo is itself a placebo.
    • Better trials are ones that compare the new drug against the one currently considered the best to treat the condition; Doctors would generally much prefer to know that a drug is at least as good as the current, usually cheaper alternative than to know it's better than no treatment at all.
  • Some public utilities include buttons that don't actually function. The so-called placebo button serves not to operate the machinery, but to keep people content by giving them the illusion of control.
    • When office workers can't change the temperature in the room, they're likely to become disgruntled and upset if they feel too hot or cold; if they believe they can change the temperature, that belief is enough to calm them down. And similarly to the placebo effect in medicine, pressing a "lower temperature" button on a thermostat that you think works can be enough to make you actually feel colder.
    • Crosswalks often contain buttons that make people think they've signaled that they want to cross the street. While such buttons used to be the way of signaling that you wanted to cross, changing times and technology have made such buttons irrelevant. Most crosswalks have since been updated to either be on a timer or to automatically respond to the flow of traffic. The crosswalk buttons on such posts have been left in but don't actually do anything anymore, simply to let people feel like they've sent the proper signal when the signal was already going to send on its own.
  • While, as mentioned in the opening to this page, the idea that a placebo can actually heal you has been debunked, the effect itself may have some merits to it, but it's all down to your own expectations. It's been theorised that, should the patient genuinely believe the medicine to be able to heal them, the body releases large doses of endorphins in anticipation of receiving the medication, and this then helps the body heal itself by reducing pain and triggering natural repair processes that these hormones control.
  • Apparently, some people think gluten is so evil they feel bad after ingesting a nocebo (i.e. food they were told contains gluten, while it really doesn't), even though they are not actually gluten intolerant.
  • The infamous ad campaign for HeadOn loudly exhorted the viewer, "Apply directly to forehead!" Allegedly a headache cure, the product's active ingredients were... inert wax. It would do just as much good to rub a candle on your face. The manufacturers cleverly used Exact Words to avoid making any claims for false advertising; notice they didn't technically say the product would, well, cure headaches.


Video Example(s):


Mermaid Magic

To boost SpongeBob and Patrick's confidence, Mindy makes them mustaches out of seaweed but tells them she used "mermaid magic" to turn them into men.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / PlaceboEffect

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