Can a pink drink make people perform better simply because they think it will?
What did they test? The researchers looked at how ingesting a calorie-free, artificially sweetened pink drink affected strength endurance.
What did they find? Ingesting a pink drink resulted in greater strength endurance than consuming a clear drink with the same taste.
What does it mean for you? Don’t assume that a supplement or drink really works just because it made you perform better. It may be mostly in your head.
What’s the Problem?
Ah, the almighty placebo effect. If you have ever consumed any scientific content, even without the slightest “deep dive” whatsoever, you’ve probably heard the word “placebo”.
The placebo effect is a psychological and physiological phenomenon where a person experiences real improvements in their condition or symptoms after receiving a treatment that, in reality, has no active substance. In other words, it's the response people exhibit when they believe they are receiving treatment, and that belief alone leads to actual changes in their health or performance.
A widely cited study by Kam-Hansen et al titled “Altered placebo and drug labeling changes the outcome of episodic migraine attacks” 1 found that migraine symptoms improved, regardless of whether the participants knew about their treatment being a placebo pill or not. Interestingly, when compared to receiving no treatment, the placebo pill accounted for more than 50% of the medication’s effect.
Now, it’s important to note that the placebo effect may not be as magical, or even real, as we think. Yes, I know, plot-twist!