“There is a sucker born every minute”, were the words that looped through my mind on the long train ride home after losing $200 in an unfortunate encounter with a card shark over on Canal Street, many years ago. I recall that when the card shark (actually a kindly old man) suggested to me that I would easily outwit him and $$ win $$, I have to admit that I really, sort of, well, believed him. Hmmm, what a sucker indeed. Come to think of it though, he didn’t even know that I was a GG homozygote at rs4570625 in the tryptophan hydroxylase-2 gene, which according to Furmark and colleagues, is “a significant predictor of clinical placebo response“. Lucky for him I guess.
There is actually a lot of mainstream neuroscience research on the placebo response – for good reason – it has a way of complicating & inflating the cost of clinical trials for many neuropsychiatric disorders, but also shows that “overt suggestions” and non-medication-based talk therapies can lead to outcome improvement. In any case, whether you prefer medication or non-medication modalities of treatment, there is much to be gained from understanding the basic biology of the placebo response. A great review on the biology of the placebo response can be found here.