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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Jun 27;366(1572):1790-8. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0381.

Placebo mechanisms across different conditions: from the clinical setting to physical performance.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Turin, and National Institute of Neuroscience, Turin, Italy.


Although the great increase in interest in the placebo phenomenon was spurred by the clinical implications of its use, the progressive elucidation of the neurobiological and pharmacological mechanisms underlying the placebo effect also helps cast new light on the relationship between mind (and brain) and body, a topic of foremost philosophical importance but also a major medical issue in light of the complex interactions between the brain on the one hand and body functions on the other. While the concept of placebo can be a general one, with a broad definition generally applicable to many different contexts, the description of the cerebral processes called into action in specific situations can vary widely. In this paper, examples will be given where physiological or pathological conditions are altered following the administration of an inert substance or verbal instructions tailored to induce expectation of a change, and explanations will be offered with details on neurotransmitter changes and neural pathways activated. As an instance of how placebo effects can extend beyond the clinical setting, data in the physical performance domain and implications for sport competitions will also be presented and discussed.

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