Expensive pleasers – placebos work better the more they appear to cost

This post was written by DoctorJay on August 14, 2011
Posted Under: persuasion

In an experiment psychologists discovered that placebos which appear to cost more will be more effective in pain management than cheaper placebos. Moreover, if the expensive placebos are apparently discounted they are less effective.

In the experiment, the subjects were given two different placebos (neutral sugar pills). There were identical brochures with the two groups. One claimed that the pain killing drug came from China and cost ten cents a pill. The other group received brochures claiming the cost of the pills were one dollar each and they were manufactured in the USA.

These more expensive pills were much more effective in diminishing the pain of controlled electric shocks.

Another group received the “expensive pills” but with a mark on the price showing that the price had been reduced. These had less effective pain control than the ones getting the full price pills.

The experiment reminds me of a real story in Chialdini’s book on persuasion, where some jewelry was not selling and when the owner was going on her vacation she asked her assistant to cut the price in two.

When she returned all the earrings had sold. The owner was pleased that the discounting had worked so well. And then she noticed that the sales person had misunderstood her and doubled the price by mistake.

So sometimes “More is more!”


I recently did a smoking cessation at a reduced “family” price for a good friend of a family member. I told her the full price and her discounted price. Perhaps this may not have been the best strategy.

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