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Placebo TalksModern perspectives on placebos in society$
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Amir Raz and Cory Harris

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199680702

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199680702.001.0001

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Unpacking the placebo response: insights from ethnographic studies of healing

Unpacking the placebo response: insights from ethnographic studies of healing

Chapter:
(p.119) Chapter 8 Unpacking the placebo response: insights from ethnographic studies of healing
Source:
Placebo Talks
Author(s):

Laurence J. Kirmayer

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199680702.003.0008

This chapter considers the implications of cross-cultural studies of healing for understanding the nature of placebo responding in biomedical contexts. Placebo responses involve positive therapeutic effects of symbolic stimuli that are mediated by changes in cognition and attention as well as psychophysiological mechanisms including classical conditioning of autonomic systems. Ethnographic studies of healing point to additional social and cultural processes that may mediate and modulate placebo responding, including: (i) cognitive and social grounding of believed-in efficacy and expectations; (ii) interpersonal processes of narrating and re-negotiating symptom and illness experience; and (iii) embedding of healing in cultural ontologies, values, and social institutions that define positive health outcomes and that govern the esthetics and rhetorical power of healing interventions. Research on the social context of placebo responding can contribute to an integrative theory of healing. This approach also has implications for the ethics and pragmatics of placebo use in medical care.

Keywords:   placebo responses, healing, ethnographic studies, cognition, attention, cultural ontologies, ethics, symbolic stimuli, medical care

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