Dumbo flies after being given a magic feather, as a direct result of the placebo effect

The placebo in performance

A look at the placebo effect in performance

Give an athlete the latest equipment, and he or she may well break records. But it can be hard to tell whether the equipment itself is directly responsible: competitors who believe they can go faster, or lift heavier weights, may do just that.

The placebo effect is well known in medicine – an inert substance can show results comparable to an active compound.

This does not mean the effect is not real. Beliefs are seated in the brain, which can affect metabolism, the immune system and other body functions. In one study, runners were told they were taking part in a trial of the effects of super-oxygenated water, which contains more than the usual amount of dissolved oxygen. Research indicates this has no measurable physiological effects, but the runners were given tap water to make sure. Even so, they improved on their normal times during the experiment, and the slower ones improved the most.

Lead image:

Jeremy/Flickr CC BY


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Exercise, Energy and Movement’ in January 2012 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Immunology, Medicine, Health, infection and disease
Exercise, Energy and Movement
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development