Course Title: CE 06: Placebo Effects: Mechanisms, Impact, and Ethical Use (Wager)

Credit Hours: 3

Instructor(s) Tor Wager

Tor Wager, PhD Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences Dartmouth College
CE Workshop # 6: Placebo Effects: Mechanisms, Impact, and Ethical Use
Abstract & Learning Objectives: Placebo effects are improvements in signs and symptoms caused by the context in which a treatment is delivered. They are a natural part of the way our brains work; their mechanisms include learning and neuroplasticity, emotion, social cognition, and expectations and other future-oriented cognition. An underappreciated consequence of placebo effects is their capacity to induce ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ — positive feedback loops between expectations and experience that can cause resistance to new information and persistent effects of prior beliefs, for good or ill. In this workshop, I explore several key issues surrounding placebo analgesia. These include: 1. What kinds of clinical and physiological loutcomes can be affected by placebo treatments? How do we separate causal effects of placebo from spontaneous improvement? 2. What are the psychological and brain processes that give rise to placebo effects? These include learning (and associated neuroplasticity), expectations, and inferences about the social and environmental context. In particular, I explore the role of conceptual thought. 3. What factors are likely to create larger placebo effects, both in terms of external manipulations of context and individual differences? 4. How can, and should, placebo effects be harnessed in clinical practice and self-care? Should companies try to capitalize on them when developing and marketing products?
Upon conclusion of this course, learners will be able to:
  • Describe the clinical and physiologic outcomes affected by placebo treatments and how to separate causal effects from spontaneous improvements
  • List the psychological and brain processes that give rise to placebo effects
  • Critique whether or not placebo effects should be harnessed in clinical practice and self-care
Speaker Biography: Dr. Tor Wager is the Diana L. Taylor Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience at Dartmouth College. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in Cognitive Psychology in 2003, and served as an Assistant (2004-2008) and Associate Professor (2009) at Columbia University, and as Associate (2010-2014) and Full Professor (2014-2019) at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since 2004, he has directed the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience laboratory, a research lab devoted to work on the neurophysiology of affective processes—pain, emotion, stress, and empathy—and how they are shaped by cognitive and social influences. Dr. Wager and his lab are also dedicated to developing analysis methods for functional neuroimaging and sharing ideas, tools, and scientific data with the scientific community and public. See http://wagerlab.colorado.eduand http://canlab.github.iofor papers, data, tools, and code.