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Meaning, Medicine and the 'Placebo Effect'
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  • 3 b/w illus. 3 tables
  • Page extent: 0 pages

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 (ISBN-13: 9780511073717 | ISBN-10: 0511073712)

Daniel Moerman presents an innovative and enlightening discussion of human reaction to the meaning of medical treatment. Traditionally, the effectiveness of medical treatments is attributed to specific elements, such as drugs or surgical procedures, but many things happen in medicine which simply cannot be accounted for in this way. The same drug can work differently when presented in different colours; drugs with widely advertised names can work better than the same drug without the name; inert drugs (placebos, dummies) often have dramatic effects on people (the 'placebo effect'); and effects can vary hugely among different European countries where the 'same' medical condition is understood differently, or has different meanings. This is true for surgery as well as for internal medicine. This lively 2002 book reviews and analyses these matters in lucid, straightforward prose, guiding the reader through a very complex body of literature, leaving nothing unexplained but avoiding any over-simplification.

• Lucid and careful explanation of a very complex body of material • Of particular value to medical professionals and students • Unique comparative studies of the variations of 'the placebo effect' in the US and among different European countries


Introduction: 'Pickle ash' and 'High blood'; Part I. The Meaning Response: 1. Healing and medical treatment; 2. The healing process; 3. Measurement and its ambiguities; 4. Doctors and patients; 5. Formal factors and the meaning response; 6. Knowledge and culture; illness and healing; Part II. Applications, Challenges and Opportunities: 7. Psychotherapy: placebo effect or meaning response?; 8. The neurobiology and cultural biology of pain; 9. 'More research is needed': the cases of 'adherence' and 'self-reported health'; 10. Other approaches: learning, expecting and conditioning; 11. Ethics, placebos and meaning; Part III. Meaning and Human Biology: 12. The extent (and limits) of meaning; 13. Conclusions: many claims, many issues.


'This lively book conceptualises the complex construct of the meaning response in medicine while taking advantage of current research and newly developed ideas.' Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies

'Daniel Moerman's Meaning, Medicine and the 'Placebo Effect' is a lucid accessible look at the power doctors have to restore patients to health with placebos.' London Review of Books

'Daniel Moerman wrote a very readably book. in plain English he describes the otherwise mostly statistically stated outcomes of experiments … it makes some of its chapters very useful for introductory courses. The book is also very useful for everyone who needs to 'break' through the pharmaceutical paradigm … it is all in all a beautiful book …'. Medische Antropologie: Tijdschrift over Gezondheid en Cultuur

'… fascinating … entertaining and accessible … I would recommend it to anyone who knows that there is more to pharmacology than just pharmacology and would like to try to understand why.' Pharmaceutical Physician

'… [this] recent volume in the Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology series [is an] important contribution to the study of medicines, not only for medical anthropologists, but for anybody who wants to understand what medicines do and how they do what they do … it is a testament to the book's quality that it raised many unanswered questions.' Journal of Biosocial Science

'This slim, engagingly written book attempts to replace the concept of 'placebo effect' … with a related one, 'meaning effect' … The book's conversational and chatty writing style … appears designed to appeal to an undergraduate audience. … Whether or not one accepts 'the meaning effect' as a novel or useful concept, the book is worth a read, and read critically is likely to provoke good classroom discussion.' Journal of the royal Anthropological Institute

'The wealth of experiments reported in this book demonstrate that medicine effects healing in many more ways than through active pharmaceutical ingredients… informative and entertaining…' Journal of Biological Science

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