Research Paper On Placebo Effect & Social Norms Theories

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Placebo, Behavior, Effect, Theory, Placebo Effect, Community, Medicine, Nursing

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/01/03

The main purpose of the current project is to find the relevant connections between two separate theories that are widely discussed, studied and used in practical psychology. These are the theory of Placebo effect and the Social nor theories. This project will describe both of them separately, discuss their history, their main tenets and tendencies and it will also discuss the main academic works that were devoted to description and study of these theories. The paper seeks to find any association between these two theories, as well.
There are various definitions of “Placebo effect”; however, all of them share the same point. It is the effect of patient's expectation of recovering that heals him and not the medicine itself. The most widely spread definition of Placebo effect is “a substance or procedure that is objectively without specific activity for the condition being treated”; therefore, this definition allows the psychologists consider this effect as a variety of different things and actions. For example, using placebo is proved to be an effective component of Pain killing therapy, as the patients show much better results of recovery once they are aware of the transmission of drugs compared to the secret injections. Although, taking into consideration the placebo effect, the administration of placebo into patient's organism is usually considered to be fake medical treatment. Nevertheless, despite the fact that this claim cannot be disputed, the effectiveness of placebo prescription proved to be not only an effective way of treatment, but even a last resort for the hopeless cases of disease.
Moreover, Moerman and Jonas have proved that the Placebo effect cannot be treated as a physiological effect solely; moreover, they have offered the so-called “meaning response” that is associated with the brain's reaction to placebo that causes its further action physiologically. Therefore, the Placebo effect has always been one of the most controversial effects in psychology and physiology, as it is mostly considered unethical, as it does not have any medical effects directly; however, it is more than unethical to refuse from something that can actually heal the patient at the same time.
The history of placebo effect starts in the 18th century, when John Haygarth tested the “Perkins tractors” treatment on his patients. He concluded that giving his patients fake medicine or so-called “dumb medicine” instead results in the same healing reaction of his patients that of the “active” medicine. By the end of the 19th century, a French pharmacist, Emile Coue, studied the existence and development of “Placebo effect” in his patients just assuring them that the medicine taken by them was effective and was able to heal them despite the fact that it was not completely true. He summarized all the findings regarding this effect in his book “Self-Mastery through Conscious Autosuggestion” that was published in England and US in the beginning of the 20th century.
Using placebos as a medical treatment remained a popular procedure with a short pause in the beginning of the 20th century, as it was the time of discovery of its ethical controversy. It was sometimes accepted as a “last resort” deception of the patient; however, the therapists of the time used to state that there was nothing good in lying to the patients. However, in 1920, T.C. Graves published his research on placebo effect in “The Lancet”, where he not only defined the term of “placebo effect” first, but also provided an evidence of a case, where “a real psychotherapeutic effect appears to have been produced”.
In 1961, it was concluded by Henry K. Beecher that the patients tend to react more effectively on medicine prescribed by an enthusiastic and empathetic therapists compared to skeptic doctors’ prescriptions. By the beginning of the 1960s, the placebo effect has been recognized and accepted as a regular method of treatment. Thus, the “Placebo effect” theory has its respective place not only in physical therapy, but in psychology, as well.
The second theory that will be discussed here is the “Social Norms” theory that was discovered and defined in the end of the 20th century. In 1986, Perkins and Berkowitz described the alcohol use patterns among students with the help of this theory. The use of the theory resulted in a completely new “social norms” approach that has proved its effectiveness in treating the alcoholism in college students by reduction of alcohol consumption by them with a further injuries that are related with it. This approach has also resulted successfully in describing various public issues starting with seat belt use up to prevention of sexual assaults.
The theory itself aims to describe the interpersonal influences and the environment as the main reasons of the behavior’s changes. The followers of the theory believe that they describe the human behavior better than the individual traits of character that can be related to these changes. Furthermore, the role of peer influence remains the fundamental reason of decision-making about different types of behavior here. These influences are usually affected by different perceived norms that are typical in a separate group of people rather than on the real actions and beliefs of the group. As there is a gap between these two norms, it forms a misperception that stands as a fundamental point of the social norms theory.
Moreover, the theory considers these misperceptions as the most influential factors of the human behavior. For example, once the problem behavior of person’s peers overestimates, it makes the persons’ own problem behaviors overestimated, as well. The opposite situation has the same effect: with peers’ underestimation of problem behavior will make person less likely to be engaged in some sort of problematic behavior. Respectively, the theory concludes that the perceived norms misperceptions’ corrections will most probable result in the desired behavior increase .
Just like for any other theory, the “Social Norms Theory” has its respective limitations and cannot be applied to any situation and/or for any group of people. However, it remains an effective way to influence the individual’s behavior with the help of social norms interventions. The most effective of them have the targeted messages for separate groups that will change the group behavior and most probably the behavior of an individual. Therefore, the whole concept of the “Social Norms Theory” is based on the assumption that an individual’s behavior is mostly influenced by the behavior of the group, to which this individual belongs. It may be either acceptance or denial of these norms; however, the individual’s attitude towards the group behavior will influence the behavior change in the individual himself. Once an individual understands that he/she belongs to a certain group of people, he/she will most probably consider an appropriate behavior the same as the group does .
This theory logically can be related to the “Placebo effect” concept, as the human behavior is being influenced not by the individual’s choice, but of the group’s behavior. The understanding of group values and principles and accepting the group norms, beliefs and actions will cause an individual behave like a member of a certain group rather than an individual himself.
Just like with the “Placebo effect”, everything starts with the human brain’s reaction. If a group thinks a certain way or demonstrates a certain behavior, most probably each member of the group will show the same behavior separately. Otherwise, it will not be considered as the part of the group. The same effect shows the organism reaction to placebo, when a therapist prescribes a method of healing and a patient believes that this medication will heal him despite the fact that he does not know, whether it is an actual medicine or a sugar pill. The difference with the “Social Norms” theory is that the “placebo” here is the information about the group’s behavior.
Summarizing everything that was mentioned above, it should be stated that the theories of “Placebo effect” and of “Social Norms” are related and can be used as the perspective method of changing the human behavior to a better one or a healthier one and cure people from various diseases, as well. With the further researches, these theories will most probably be more closely associated towards each other and the diagnosis of the patient and his behavior will most probably be analyzed from the perspective of both these theories.


Beecher, H. K. (1961, 07 01). Surgery as placebo. A quantitative study of bias. J Am Med Assoc , 176(13), pp. 1102–1107.
Berkowitz, A. D. (2005). An Overview of the Social Norms Approach. In L. S. L Lederman, Changing the Culture of College Drinking: A Socially Situated Prevention Campaign (Vol. 13, pp. 193 - 214). New York: Hampton Press.
Booth, C. (2005, 08). The rod of Aesculapios: John Haygarth (1740–1827) and Perkins' metallic tractors. Jornal of Medical Biography , 13 (3), pp. 155-161.
Daniel E. Moerman, P., & and Wayne B. Jonas, M. (2002, 03 19). Deconstructing the Placebo Effect and Finding the Meaning Response. Annals of Internal Medicine , 136 (6), pp. 471-476.
Deutch, M. a. (1955). A study of normative and informational social influence upon judgment. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology , 51 (3), pp. 629-636.
Graves, T. (1920, 12 04). COMMENTARY ON A CASE OF HYSTERO-EPILEPSY WITH DELAYED PUBERTY. The Lancet , 196 (5075), pp. 1134–1135.
Kelley, H. H. (1955). The two functions of reference groups. New York: Holt.
Perkins, H. a. (1986). Perceiving the Community Norms of Alcohol Use Among Students: Some Research Implications for Campus Alcohol Education Programming. International Journal of the Addiction , 21 (9-10), pp. 961 976.

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