Effects of open-label placebos on test performance and psychological well-being in healthy medical students: a randomized controlled trial
Scientific Reports , Volume 11, pp 1-11; doi:10.1038/s41598-021-81502-2
Abstract: Psychological distress is prevalent in students and can predispose to psychiatric disorders. Recent findings indicate that distress might be linked to impaired cognitive performance in students. Experimental findings in healthy participants suggest that placebo interventions can improve cognition. However, whether non-deceptive (i.e., open-label, OLP) placebos can enhance cognitive function and emotional well-being is unclear. Using a randomized-controlled design we demonstrate a positive impact of OLP on subjective well-being (i.e., stress, fatigue, and confusion) after a 21-day OLP application in healthy students during midterm exams. OLP did not improve test performance, but, within the OLP group, test performance was positively correlated with measures of general belief in the benefit of medication. These results show that OLP can counteract negative effects of acute stress on psychological well-being and might improve cognitive performance if supported by positive treatment expectations. Additionally, our findings in healthy volunteers warrant further investigation in exploring the potential of OLP in reducing stress-related psychological effects in patients. The trial was preregistered at the German Clinical Trials Register on December 20, 2017 (DRKS00013557).
Keywords: fatigue / cognitive neuroscience / human behaviour / Stress and Resilience
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