top of page

The Placebo Effect

I have several ongoing projects related to the placebo effect. I am leading an FRQ-S-funded project examining ways in which the placebo effect poses challenges for medicine as it stands. In particular, the project delves into challenges related to 1) the methods of medicine, particularly the randomized-control trial, which prioritizes treatments that fail to incorporate placebo mechanisms, 2) the boundaries of medicine, as complementary and alternative practices seek legitimacy in placebo research, 3) longstanding biases within medicine, as underfunded, stigmatized conditions are found to respond better to placebo treatments than available ones.


I began work on the placebo effect within my dissertation, within which I considered several prominent accounts of the placebo effect that have been put forward and argued that none of them are able to adequately account for the diverse instantiations of the phenomenon that we are now learning about. I then offered a novel account, suggesting that we ought to think of the placebo effect as encompassing three distinct responses: conditioned placebo responses, cognitive placebo responses, and network placebo responses. I also considered implications of the placebo effect’s role in complementary and alternative medicine for discussions of how to demarcate between science and pseudoscience within philosophy of science and offered a bioethical argument that maintains that the neglect of the placebo effect within medicine may be contributing to an increase in health disparities along lines of race and ethnicity.


Representative Papers:

·       Friesen, P., Dionne, E., (2022) “It’s All in Your Head”: Magic and Misdirection in Medicine. Science and Technology Studies. 35(2), 72-96.

·       Friesen, P. (2020) Towards an Account of the Placebo Effect: A Critical Evaluation Alongside Current Evidence, Biology & Philosophy. 

·       Shevlin, H., Friesen, P. (2020) Pain, Placebo, and Cognitive Penetration. Mind and Language. 

·       Friesen, P. (2019) Placebos as a Source of Agency: Evidence and Implications. Frontiers in Psychiatry (Psychosomatic Medicine). Special Issue: Placebo and Nocebo Effects in Psychiatry and Beyond, Eds. Enck, P., Weimer, K., Colloca, L., Dodd, S. 

·       Friesen, P. (2019) Mesmer, the Placebo Effect, and the Efficacy Paradox: Lessons for Evidence Based Medicine and Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Critical Public Health. Special Issue: Pseudoscience and Global Health, Eds. Kingori, P. and Gerrets, R. 


Recent / Upcoming Talks: ​

·    “Unsettling Evidence Based Medicine: Three Challenges from Placebo Studies” (May 7th, 2024), Keynote at the Annual Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Philosophy of Psychiatry, New York

·    "The Placebo Effect: Not Just a Lie That Heals" (April 12, 2024), panel discussion with Ted Kaptchuk for the Harvard Medical School Bioethics and Health Policy Consortium

·   “The Polarization of Long Covid: Gender, Dualism, and the Promise of Placebo” (July 11th, 2023), Desirable/Undesirable Futures: Scholarship on the Political, Ethical, and Moral Economies of Post-Pandemic Recovery, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

bottom of page