Wonderful Word of Placebo: A talk by Professor Irving Kirsch

Professor Irving Kirsch is Associate Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School and is noted for his work on placebo effects, antidepressants, expectancy, hypnosis and the originator of response expectancy theory, is coming to give a talk at Bournemouth University. His influential book “The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth” was shortlisted for the 2010 Mind book of the Year award and was the central premise of a CBS 60 Minutes documentary. His work has changed how anti-depressants are prescribed in the UK. He will be giving a public lecture on the “Wonderful Word of Placebo” on Wednesday the 21st of June at 6.30pm in the Allesbrook LT. I have created an Eventbrite registration page (https://thewonderfulworldofplacebo.eventbrite.co.uk) should you want to attend this.  Professor Kirsch will also be giving a talk that will be more directly about his book on Friday the 23rd of June at 12.30pm in the Lawrence LT. The abstracts for both talks are also below.

Wonderful Word of Placebo

Wednesday 21st of June 2017 18:30 in the Allesbrook LT


There is not just one placebo effect; there are many placebo effects. Placebo effects can be powerful or powerless depending on the color, dose, strength of the active treatment, branding, price, mode of administration, and the condition being treated. Psychological mechanisms underlying the placebo effect include Pavlovian conditioning, expectancy, and the therapeutic relationship. Because the placebo effect is a component of the response to active treatment, these mechanisms can be used to enhance treatment outcome. Also, contrary to received wisdom, placebo treatment can produce meaningful effects even when placebos are given openly without deception.

The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth

Friday 23rd of June 2017 12:30 in the Lawrence LT

Antidepressants are supposed to work by fixing a chemical imbalance, specifically, a lack of serotonin or norepinephrine in the brain.  However, analyses of the published and the unpublished data that were hidden by the drug companies reveal that most (if not all) of the benefits are due to the placebo effect, and the difference in improvement between drug and placebo is not clinically meaningful.   Some antidepressants increase serotonin levels, some decrease serotonin, and some have no effect at all on serotonin.  Nevertheless, they all show the same therapeutic benefit.  Instead of curing depression, popular antidepressants may induce a biological vulnerability making people more likely to become depressed in the future.  Other treatments (e.g., psychotherapy and physical exercise) produce the same short-term benefits as antidepressants, show better long-term effectiveness, and do so without the side effects and health risks of the drugs.