Neil posted recently about a study that found placebo-related effects in female hotel room cleaners. Here's another placebo-related effect: In a forthcoming study, researchers report that people enjoy wine more when they believe it has a higher price tag. It seems to be accepted wisdom that our reported perceptions of the quality of a product depend on our beliefs about the price of a product. What's unusual about this study is that they purport to use brain imaging to support the view that we actually enjoy consuming a product more when we believe it is more expensive. (Subjects in an fMRI scanner drank samples of various Cabernet Sauvignons that were pumped in to the scanner--I guess they drank it while lying down.)
The paper is still in draft form, so I won't quote from it directly. But it certainly is interesting. They even note a possible similarity to pain placebo effects on p. 8. The study fits nicely with placebo research findings that placebo efficacy increases as the price of the placebo increases. So your homeopathic remedy works better when it costs you more.
The Seventh Circuit recently affirmed a lower-court ruling against the makers of the Q-Ray bracelet and in favor of the Federal Trade Commission. Now, Q-Ray did make all sorts of claims about how the bracelets work (ions and the like) that seem to have no basis in fact. That's a problem. But claims that the bracelets helped alleviate symptoms may well be legitimate--they created placebo effects. In a double blind study, they won't perform better than "placebo" Q-Ray bracelets (ones that lack the Q-Rays!) But that fact alone does not denigrate the power of the bracelet to ease some symptoms.
Here's the kicker. According to Judge Easterbrook, “Since the placebo effect can be obtained from sugar pills, charging $200 for a device that is represented as a miracle cure but works no better than a dummy pill is a form of fraud.” Not so fast, I say. We need to run a test that compares the efficacy of an expensive, hyped-up bracelet to a cheap sugar pill. The smart money says that the bracelet will have the edge. It may not be a $200 edge, but that's usually for the consumer to decide. For a limited defense of clinical placebo deception, see here (the final version should appear here in the next couple of weeks).