The placebo effect in psychosis: why it matters and how to measure it

Emily Hird, Kelly Diederen, Stephan Leucht, Karin Jensen, Philip McGuire

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Psychosis is characterized by unusual percepts and beliefs in the form of hallucinations and delusions. Antipsychotic medication, the primary treatment for psychosis, is often ineffective and accompanied by severe side effects, but research has not identified an effective alternative in several decades. One reason that clinical trials fail is that patients with psychosis tend to show a significant therapeutic response to inert control treatments, known as the placebo effect, which makes it difficult to distinguish drug effects from placebo effects. Conversely, in clinical practice, a strong placebo effect may be useful because it could enhance the overall treatment response. Identifying factors that predict large placebo effects could improve the future outlook of psychosis treatment. Biomarkers of the placebo effect have already been suggested in pain and depression, but not in psychosis. Quantifying markers of the placebo effect would have the potential to predict placebo effects in psychosis clinical trials. Furthermore, the placebo effect and psychosis may represent a shared neurocognitive mechanism in which prior beliefs are weighted against new sensory information to make inferences about reality. Examining this overlap could reveal new insights into the mechanisms underlying psychosis and indicate novel treatment targets. We provide a narrative review of the importance of the placebo effect in psychosis and propose a novel method to assess it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-613
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Global Open Science
Issue number4
Early online date5 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


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