Science Fair Projects Using the Placebo Effect

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The placebo effect is a phenomena in which a patient's symptoms are alleviated because they believe that a particular treatment will work. Some consider the placebo effect to be a real product of physiology and psychology. Others believe the effect is the result of flawed experiments. The placebo effect can be explored in a number of science fair projects.

1 Classroom Tests

A student should put together two memory tests. One should involve remembering 20 numbers, and the other should involve remembering 20 words. The student can then take both tests to classrooms within the school and have students in each class take both tests. The student should then take the tests home and score them. The next week, the student should go back to each classroom and ask other students to retake the tests, telling the class that they did very well on one test and very poorly on the other. The student can then compare the second results to the first results. Determine whether the students perform better the second time on the test they were told they did well on the first time and whether they perform worse on the test they were told they did badly on the first time. Consider what role confidence plays in testing performance.

2 Caffeine Experiment

For this experiment you will need caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. You should also recruit 20 participants. Ten should be regular coffee drinkers, and 10 should not be. Before anyone drinks any coffee, administer a concentration test and a typing test and record the scores of each participant. Then distribute coffee to everyone. Half the participants should drink the caffeinated and half the decaffeinated. Record which type of coffee each participant is given, but do not let them know. Wait about thirty minutes. Then, administer the tests again and record the results. Determine whether the test scores were higher for the caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee drinkers.

3 Sports Drink Test

Recruit about 10 participants. Time each participant as he runs for 100 yards. Record the scores. Now, in unmarked cups, serve half the participants a sports drink and half the participants Kool Aid. Be sure to keep track of who is drinking what and tell all the participants that they are drinking a sports drink. Have participants run the 100 yards again and compare the second round of scores to the first round. Determine whether the participants who actually drank a sports drink ran faster.

4 Alcohol Experiment for Adults

This experiment should only be performed on participants over 21 and might be most appropriate for college science fairs. Recruit a group of 10 people. Draw or tape a straight line to the floor and have the participants walk along it. Record results for each participant. Now, serve half the participants an alcoholic beer and serve the other half non-alcoholic beer. Be sure to pour the beer into cups so that participants cannot see the labels and do not know which one they are drinking. Now, have each participant walk the straight line again. Record the results and compare.

Based in Portland, Ore., Miranda Sinclair has been writing professionally since 2009. She holds a B.A. in English and theater from the University of Oregon, as well as an M.A. in English and certificate in teaching college composition from San Francisco State University. Sinclair works as a tutor and teacher of writing.