The Placebo Effect


Official data in SubjectManager for the following academic year: 2023-2024

Course director

Number of hours/semester

lectures: 12 hours

practices: 0 hours

seminars: 0 hours

total of: 12 hours

Subject data

  • Code of subject: OSF-PLH-T
  • 1 kredit
  • Dentistry
  • Optional modul
  • spring


Course headcount limitations

min. 5 – max. 50


The use of placebo treatments was an inherent part of medicine for thousands of years, and during the second half of the 20th Century it became an inevitable element of medical research due to the introduction of placebo-controlled clinical trials. Despite this fact, the research methodology to measure the effectiveness of placebo effect was clarified only at around the beginning of the 21st Century. At the same time, research on the neurochemical mechanisms underlying placebo responses gained a new impetus. Currently, therefore, we have a much clearer understanding of placebo effect in the context of evidence-based medicine than before, which raises new types of ethical questions as well. During the course we will examine various aspects of the phenomenon of placebo effect, and the students will gain knowledge of the current research results. The main topics of the course: the history of the use of placebo therapies, the role of placebo effect in medical research, the psycho-social factors contributing to placebo effect, neurochemical mechanisms underlying the placebo responses, ethical implications.


  • 1. Introduction, definitions of placebo effect - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 2. The use of placebo effect in the history of medicine - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 3. The use of placebo effect in the context of medical research: the introduction of randomized placebo controlled clinical trials and its consequences - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 4. The methodological and ethical challenges of placebo research - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 5. The main forms of placebo effect (expectancy based / classical conditioning / affective modulation) and their effectiveness in different diseases - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 6. The neurochemistry of placebo effect: placebo analgesia - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 7. The neurochemistry of placebo effect: the cardiovascular and the respiratory system, immune response and hormone secretion, Parkinson disease - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 8. The neurochemistry of placebo effect: further results - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 9. An overview of the psycho-social factors that are able to induce placebo effect - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 10.  Pain management through psychological interventions and placebo analgesia - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 11. Ethical implications: how to enhance the placebo effect through improving the physician-patient relationship - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor
  • 12.  Written test - Dr. Szolcsányi Tibor



Reading material

Obligatory literature

Franklin G. Miller; Luna Colloca; Ted J. Kaptchuk: The Placebo Effect: Illness and Interpersonal Healing, Perspect Biol Med. 2009 ; 52(4)
Damien G. Finniss; Ted J. Kaptchuk; Franklin G. Miller; Fabrizio Benedetti: Biological, Clinical and Ethical Advances of Placebo Effects, Lancet 2010; 375; 686-695
Franklin G. Miller; Donald L. Rosenstein: The Nature and Power of the Placebo Effect, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 59, 2006; 331-335
Fabrizio Benedetti: Mechanisms of Placebo and Placebo-Related Effects across Diseases and Treatments, Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Vol. 48; 2008; 33-60.
Jozien M. Bensing; William Verheul: The Silent Healer: The Role of Communication in Placebo Effects, Patient Education and Counseling 80, 2010; 293-299

Literature developed by the Department

Additional materials: Neptun MeetStreet, MS Teams



Recommended literature

Fabrizio Benedetti: Placebo Effect, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009

Conditions for acceptance of the semester

Maximum of 25 % absence allowed

Mid-term exams

Written test taking place in the last class. To improve the grade, the test can be repeated two times in the first two weeks of the exam period.

Making up for missed classes

According to the Code of Studies and Examinations.

Exam topics/questions



Instructor / tutor of practices and seminars