Placebo response mitigation with a participant-focused psychoeducational procedure: a randomized, single-blind, all placebo study in major depressive and psychotic disorders.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The remarkably high and growing placebo response rates in clinical trials for CNS indications, such as depression and schizophrenia, constitute a major challenge for the drug development enterprise. Despite extensive literature on participant expectancies and other potent psychosocial factors that perpetuate placebo response, no empirically validated participant-focused strategies to mitigate this phenomenon have been available. This study evaluated the efficacy of the Placebo-Control Reminder Script (PCRS), a brief interactive procedure that educates participants about factors known to cause placebo response, which was administered prior to the primary outcome assessments to subjects with major depressive or psychotic disorders who had at least moderate depression. Participants were informed they would participate in a 2-week randomized clinical trial with a 50% chance of receiving either an experimental antidepressant medication or placebo. In actuality, all participants received placebo. Participants randomly assigned to receive the PCRS (n = 70) reported significantly smaller reductions (i.e., less placebo response) in depression than those who did not receive the PCRS (n = 67). The magnitude of this effect was medium (Cohen's d = 0.40) and was not significantly impacted by diagnostic status. The number of adverse events (i.e., nocebo effect) was also lower in the PCRS group, particularly in the first week of the study. These findings suggest that briefly educating participants about placebo response factors can help mitigate the large placebo response rates that are increasingly seen in failed CNS drug development programs.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Cohen, EA; Hassman, HH; Ereshefsky, L; Walling, DP; Grindell, VM; Keefe, RSE; Wyka, K; Horan, WP

Published Date

  • March 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 46 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 844 - 850

PubMed ID

  • 33244149

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8026614

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1740-634X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1038/s41386-020-00911-5


  • eng

Conference Location

  • England