Placebo for kids?

May 27, 2008 BY danariely

The New York Times today had a story about Jennifer Buettner, who is trying to make a placebo pill for kids, but maybe for all of us.

Is this a good idea?

We know that in many cases placebos do work, and we also know that they have very few side effects — a point for placebo pills!

On the other hand we also know that the key to placebo is to create expectations. Without people trusting the placebo to work, such pills will have no effect. So this means that the parents will have to lie to their kids (and maybe even believe in the placebo pills themselves).

The truth is that as a parent I am not sure how I feel about this approach. On one hand when my kids are sick I really want them to feel better and do so as quickly as possible (there were a few exceptions where my son was a bit sick and all he wanted was to put his head on me and sleep, which I enjoyed a lot). But I also don’t want to lie to them, and to teach them not to trust me — even if it is helping them at the moment.

So — if one of my kids were sick and I had such a pill, would I use it? I am not sure.