A number of studies and meta-analyses conclude that aerobic fitness (walking) interventions improve cognition. Such interventions typically compare improvements from these interventions to an active control group in which participants engage in non-aerobic activities (typically stretching and toning) for an equivalent amount of time. However, in the absence of a double-blind design, the presence of an active control group does not necessarily control for placebo effects; participants might expect different amounts of improvement for the treatment and control interventions . We conducted a large survey to explore whether people expect greater cognitive benefits from an aerobic exercise intervention compared to a control intervention. If participants expect greater improvement following aerobic exercise, then the benefits of such interventions might be due in part to a placebo effect. In general, expectations did not differ between aerobic and non-aerobic interventions. If anything, some of the results suggest the opposite (e.g., respondents expected the control, non-aerobic intervention to yield bigger memory gains). These results provide the first evidence that cognitive improvements following aerobic fitness training are not due to differential expectations.
Stothart, C. R., Simons, D. J., Boot, W. R., & Kramer, A. F. (2014). Is the effect of aerobic exercise on cognition a placebo effect? PLoS ONE, 9(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0109557