Improving credibility of instructions in the balanced placebo design: a misattribution manipulation

Research using the balanced placebo design seeks to differentiate the physiological and psychological effects of drinking alcohol. Questions regarding the validity of the design center about experimenter instructions, particularly in the antiplacebo cell at higher blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. This study tested the plausibility of two misattribution strategies designed to reduce the conflict between experimenter instructions and internal cues of drunkenness. Forty-two participants (BAC = .055) were told that they received no alcohol, with internal cues of drunkenness said to be produced by a (sham) second drug, a (placebo) tachistoscopic display, or no misattribution given. The placebo drug group reported less alcohol intoxication without reporting less physical impairment than the control or tachistoscopic groups. Doubt of instructions was expressed more frequently in the control group than in the placebo drug group. Mean time to first reported doubt of experimenter instructions was longer for the placebo drug group. A manipulation check designed to account for demand effects indicated that instituting the pharmacologic misattribution increased the success of the manipulation over the control group. Providing a credible attribution for internal symptoms of drunkenness makes experimenter's instructions more credible, improving the validity of the antiplacebo cell of the balanced placebo design.