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Scientific Studies Often, if not always, include a group that does not receive the actual medication or treatment, as a "control" or balance to another group that does. Usually, neither group knows who is getting the treatment and who isn't. In the course of these studies, doctors have noticed that sometimes people getting only "sugar pills" or no treatment at all report improvements in their condition. This is called the placebo effect, and in some cases it can positively affect from 35% to 75% of the patients in the untreated group. It may even outperform the drug therapy.

Efforts are being made to understand how the placebo effect works and whether it can be used as a form of treatment. One doctor offered an insight into what conditions are conducive to patients' benefiting from this effect. Physician Herbert Spiegel said, "The placebo effect can occur when conditions are optimal for hope, faith, trust and love."

Margaret Talbot
"The Placebo Prescription"
The New York Times Magazine
January 9, 2000

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