Can your doctor’s beliefs about the efficacy of a treatment affect how you experience pain? In episode 65, we’re joined by Luke Chang from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College. He talks with us about his research into socially transmitted placebo effects, through which patients can pick up on subtle facial cues that reveal their doctor’s beliefs about how effective a treatment will be. His article “Socially transmitted placebo effects” was published with Pin-Hao Chen, Jin Hyun Cheong, Eshin Jolly, Hirsh Elhence, and Tor Wager on October 21st, 2019 in Nature Human Behaviour.



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Hosts / Producers

Ryan Watkins & Doug Leigh

How to Cite

Watkins, R., Leigh, D., & Chang, L.. (2020, January 7). Parsing Science – Transmitting Placebo Effects. figshare.


What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers


Luke Chang: I’m more shocked when something works than when it doesn’t. And so, at first I was like – I just didn’t believe that it actually worked.

Ryan Watkins: This is Parsing Science: the unpublished stories behind the world’s most compelling science, as told by the researcher themselves. I’m Ryan Watkins.

Doug Leigh: And I’m Doug Leigh. Today, in episode 65 of Parsing Science, we’re joined by Luke Chang from Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. He’ll talk with us about his research into how our beliefs in doctors’ expectations of how effective a treatment will be can influence our body’s experience of – and responses to – pain. Here’s Luke Chang.

Chang: I’m Luke Chang. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri and grew up in Denver, Colorado. I attended college at Reed College in Portland Oregon, and then I did a master’s in psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York. And then I transferred to start my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and then completed a clinical internship in behavioral medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles. And then a postdoc fellowship in neuroimaging methods and placebos and pain research with Tor Wager at the University of Colorado in Boulder. And I started as an assistant professor at Dartmouth College in 2015. So I’ve been here about four years.

You know, being trained as a clinician I was always really interested in how, like, psychotherapy worked. And in the beginning I was, like, really skeptical about it – so I was actually started being trained as a neuropsychologist, but then found that I actually enjoyed doing therapy much more than doing assessments. And one of the things that I found surprising was that I was pretty convinced people were getting better [by] doing different types of therapies, but I wasn’t exactly convinced that of the reason why they were getting better. And there’s … I wouldn’t say, like, a lot of research, but there’s a lot of papers talking about things called “nonspecific factors.” And so these are things that, like, how the provider connects with the patient, or maybe instills hope, or manipulates expectations, that can impact the patient’s outcomes. And that’s regardless of the technique that you’re using. And those have been thought to account for a lot of the variance in how – at least in psychotherapy research – but they haven’t been studied very systematically yet – [so I] was always really interested in this – and then, can we find a way to actually study this?

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