Saturday, October 31, 2015

Animal Placebo

If it were not hard enough to define what consciousness is, then comes the issue of whether animals have extended consciousness, or self-perception. And then which animals. A very rudimentary test seems to be the mirror test where an animal is marked with a mark only visible in a mirror and humans monitor for mark grooming behaviors in front of the mirror.

Why dwell on this vexing question when much smarter and specialized minds already tried? I was not trying I swear, but I just heard about some medical research in mice where the results were broken into three groups: Mice that got the medicine, mice that did not get anything, and mice that got a placebo.

I said voila! If researchers had the need to create a mice placebo control group, or circularly if the results between the placebo and the untreated mice were different I thought that would settle the issue. A small step for mice a huge step for mankind.

Intuitively the placebo effect has to be based on consciousness even if there is no consciousness definition.

But when I checked the facts I am not that sure. The documented rodent placebo effect is more conditioning type of effect a la Pavlov, not so much a mouse being told "take this pill and see me next week".  And the dog placebo effect reported by veterinarians is biased by human placebo, namely the owners fall for the placebo their dogs are taking and believe the dog's condition has improved. That in itself is revealing of a Placebo that is purely mental and unrelated to any anatomical response, as it occurs outside the subject being treated.

Disappointing, but fear not, we will not leave empty handed. At the very least I can offer a testable consciousness definition as: "A mental process subject to the Placebo effect".

Paradoxically can we claim we humans are smarter than animals when we fall for Placebos while animals do not?