If You Expect To Feel Better, You Will!

According to a new study led by Bret R. Rutherford of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, people who have higher expectations of a positive outcome will have a higher chance of experiencing one. Rutherford and his team have been studying the effects of placebo versus antidepressant treatment for major depression (MDD). Their research led them to question if the response to treatment was affected by a participant’s knowledge of whether they would be receiving an antidepressant or placebo.

In many studies, participants are not made aware of the placebo condition, while in other studies they are. But until know, the knowledge of which condition a participant is part of, and the expectations that come with that knowledge, have not been assessed in relation to outcome.

Rutherford enlisted adult participants from the New York State Psychiatric Institute for the study. All of the participants were receiving outpatient treatment for MDD and were assigned to either a placebo-controlled condition (PC) or comparator antidepressant (COMP) condition for an 8 week period. The participants in the PC condition knew that they would be taking either an antidepressant or placebo, but did know which they received. The COMP participants were guaranteed that they would receive an antidepressant. Rutherford measured depressive symptoms and expectancy of outcome prior to the study onset and then assessed depressive symptoms at the conclusion of the study.

He found that the participants in the COMP condition had higher expectations of positive outcomes compared to the participants in the PC group. He also discovered that the higher the expectation of improvement, the lower the depressive symptoms at the end of the study period. However, there were no overall differences in treatment response between COMP and PC participants.

In conclusion, these finding demonstrate that manipulating the conditions of a study ever so slightly can have a significant impact on outcome. Rutherford added, “If larger, follow-up studies confirm that higher patient expectancy leads to improved antidepressant response, optimizing patient expectancy may represent a potential avenue of improving antidepressant treatment.”

Rutherford, B. R., et al. (2013). A randomized, prospective pilot study of patient expectancy and antidepressant outcome. Psychological Medicine 43.5 (2013): 975-82. ProQuest. Web.

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  • garrison


    June 6th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    It’s mind over matter, baby!
    That has always worked for me!

  • Sally High

    Sally High

    June 6th, 2013 at 5:04 AM

    This study does a great job in showing us the power of positive thinking. If we tell ourselves negative thoughts about ourselves we can get stuck in a downward spiral of depression and yet when we set our expectations higher and allow ourselves to believe we can achieve what we set our mind too, the sky is the limit.

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