The experiment by Hartmann, Lamm and colleagues now showed that subjects who had taken the placebo were less willing to help the other person if they could only slightly reduce the other person’s supposed pain – i.e. only by an electric shock . The placebo group would also have pressed the force gauge less hard on average than the control group, which did not receive any “painkillers”.
According to the research team, the empathy of the subjects towards the other person is crucial. This is dampened by the placebo, which leads to a lower willingness to help. “Previous studies had already shown that such a dummy drug reduces empathy. Our experiment now shows for the first time that this also reduces the willingness to actually help behavior, based on this reduced empathy,” says Hartmann.
The study suggests that even taking painkillers once can influence behavior towards others. This may have consequences for people who are under the (regular) influence of painkillers, such as those with chronic pain. “Should this be confirmed for actual pain medications and in studies outside of the laboratory, this negative social side effect would have to be made public,” emphasized Lamm.