Clinical and community applications of placebo and nocebo effects


Over the last two decades, a wealth of experimental studies has helped us to uncover the psychological mechanisms of placebo and nocebo effects. But a critical remaining question is how placebo and nocebo effects apply to clinical and community settings. 
This project focuses on translating basic knowledge of placebo and nocebo effects to clinical and/or community settings. 
A complimentary scholarship for this project may be available through a competitive process. To find out more, refer to the Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Excellence Award and contact A/Prof Ben Colagiuri directly.


Associate Professor Ben Colagiuri

Research Location

School of Psychology

Program Type



Placebo and nocebo effects are fascinating psychobiological phenomena whereby individuals experience beneficial (placebo) or adverse (nocebo) outcomes simply as a result of the act of receiving a treatment. 
Experimental studies have shown reliable placebo effects and nocebo effects across many conditions, including health (e.g. pain, nausea, sleep, mood, immune function, Parkinson’s disease), cognitive function (e.g. attention, learning, memory), and sports performance (e.g. running, cycling, weightlifting). 
Advances in neuroscience have demonstrated that expectancies generated by verbal, social, and contextual cues trigger activation of the central nervous system in order to produce these placebo and nocebo effects. However, we know comparatively less about the clinical and community applications of placebo effects. 
For example, does tailoring treatment delivery to maximise placebo effects and minimise nocebo effects improve patient outcomes? Can this be achieved without deception? Do nocebo effects contribute to community illnesses like electromagnetic hypersensitivity and wind turbine syndrome? How can we prevent this? 
The current project seeks to advance knowledge of the clinical and/or community applications of placebo and nocebo effects. The successful candidate will be able to shape the specific direction of the project and whether the focus is on clinical or community applications. 
Examples of clinical applications include clinical trials testing interventions aimed at enhancing placebo effects and minimising nocebo effects, such as open label placebos, framing and communication techniques, or learning techniques, in pain, nausea, sleep or other conditions. Examples of community applications include surveillance and intervention studies aimed at understanding the contribution of and preventing any nocebo effects for community illnesses like electromagnetic hypersensitivity and wind turbine syndrome.

Additional Information

The successful candidate will have a background in Psychology or closely related field, ideally with some prior knowledge of the placebo effect, clinical trials, and or community interventions, although this is not necessary. 

The successful candidate will join a well-resourced lab of approximately 10 researchers, including postdocs, PhD and honours students, and research assistants focused on placebo and nocebo effects. There will be opportunities to collaborate with both leading local and international researchers with expertise on placebo and nocebo effects as well as related fields (e.g. health psychology, medical psychology, learning). 
The Supervisor team will also involve Prof Louise Sharpe
The project will commence in Research Period 1, 2021. A complimentary scholarship for this project may be available through a competitive process. To find out more, refer to the Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Excellence Award and contact A/Prof Ben Colagiuri directly.

HDR Inherent RequirementsIn addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include: 

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)
You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Placebo effect, nocebo effect, expectancy, learning, Pain, nausea, scholarship

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2813