Placebo effects in competitive sport: Qualitative data

Christopher J. Beedie*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    65 Citations (SciVal)


    The paper examines the placebo effect in sports performance. The possibility that the placebo effect is a more common phenomenon than the quantity of published research would suggest is briefly addressed. It is suggested that the placebo control design often used in sports performance research masks any placebo effects and thus presents a false picture of the mechanisms underlying performance-enhancing interventions in the real world. An electronic survey was sent to 48 competitive, international and professional athletes. Questions related to the placebo effect in competitive sport. Thirty responses were received. Data indicate that the majority (97%) of respondents believe that the placebo effect can exert an influence on sports performance, and that a significant number (73%) have experienced what they defined as a placebo effect. Inductive content analysis reveals that these experiences fall into several categories such as explicit placebo effects, inadvertent false beliefs, ritual and reverse placebo effects. Furthermore, 10 respondents (33%) offer explanations as to the nature of the placebo effect. Again, inductive content analysis reveals that these explanations fall into several categories including deliberate changes in competitive strategy, belief/expectancy, faith in a third party, and marketing. Overall, responses support previous experimental research and anecdotal reports that have found a relationship between belief and sports performance. It is suggested that further research be structured to not simply control for the placebo effect, but to elucidate it.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)21-28
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Sports Science and Medicine
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2007


    • steroids
    • belief
    • experimental design
    • performance psychology
    • research methods


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