Research
  • Research Progress
  • Dr. Yina Ma’ group uncovered the social placebo effect
     
    On May 14th 2018, PNAS online published a research article entitled “Placebo treatment facilitates social trust and approach behavior” from Dr. Yina Ma’s group at the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, IDG/McGovern Brain Research Institute at Beijing Normal University. This study provided the first-time empirical evidence for social placebo effect (SPE) on social trust and approach behavior.
     
    The World Health Organization defines health as a state of physical, mental, and social well-being. Although placebo effect, beneficial changes induced by the use of inert treatment, has been widely shown to improve physical and mental well-being, it remains unknown whether placebo treatment facilitates social well-being, a crucial aspect for well-being of a social species. In the present study, we develop and validate a paradigm to induce placebo effects on social trust and approach behavior (social placebo effect), and show robust evidence that placebo treatment promotes trust in others and increases preference for a closer interpersonal distance. We further examine placebo effects in real-life social interaction and show that placebo treatment makes single, but not pair-bonded, males keep closer to an attractive first-met female and perceive less social anxiety in the female.
     
    Interestingly, we show evidence that the effects of placebo treatment on social trust and approach behavior can be as strong as the effect of intranasal administration of oxytocin, a neuropeptide known for its function in facilitating social cognition and belief formation (see Ma et al., 2016, PNAS; 2016, TiCS), but with SPE more sensitive to social motivational state. The finding of the social placebo effect extends our understanding of placebo effects on improvement of physical, mental, and social well-being and suggests clinical potentials in the treatment of social dysfunction. Dr. Yina Ma’s group have conducted a series of experiments to further examine the neural mechanism underlying SPE, SPE on social decision making, socio-affective processes, and started testing SPE in patients with emotional and social deficits.
     
    This study is contributed by graduate students of Xinyuan Yan, Xue Yong, Wenhao Huang from Yina Ma’s group. This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China Projects (No. 31722026, 31771204, 91632118 to Y.M.) and start-up funding to Y.M. from the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Beijing Normal University.
     
    Paper link:
    Xinyuan Yan, Xue Yong, Wenhao Huang, and Yina Ma. (in press). Placebo treatment facilitates social trust and approach behavior. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. published ahead of print May 14, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1800779115.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/05/08/1800779115
     
    Link to Dr. Yina Ma’s group:
    http://brain.bnu.edu.cn/en/People/Professor/2016/0520/784.html
    http://brain.bnu.edu.cn/home/yinama/
     
     
    Reference:
    Yan, X., Yong, X., Huang, W., Ma, Y.* (In press). Placebo treatment facilitates social trust and approach behavior. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/05/08/1800779115
     
    Wang, D., Yan, X., Li, M., Ma, Y.* (2017). Neural substrates underlying the effects of oxytocin: A quantitative meta-analysis of pharmaco-imaging studies. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci, 12: 1565-1573.
    https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/12/10/1565/3896064
     
    Ma, Y.,* Li, S., Wang, C., Liu, Y., Li, W., Yan, X. et al. (2016). Distinct oxytocin effects on belief updating in response to desirable and undesirable feedback. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA,113:9256-61. 
    http://www.pnas.org/content/113/33/9256
     
    Ma, Y.,* Shamay-Tsoory, S., Han, S., Zink, C. F. (2016). Oxytocin and social adaptation: Insights from neuroimaging studies of healthy and clinical populations. Trends Cogn Sci, 20: 133-145. 
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661315002752