‘Nonspecific’ effects

Expectation and experience of the ‘nonspecific’ effects of acupuncture: Developing and piloting a set of questionnaires

© David Mayor (University of Hertfordshire) and Tony Steffert (Open University)

Background Information (PDF) 808 KB
The Poster (PDF) 169 KB

32-item ‘EXPectation of feelings’ questionnaires were developed to explore the expected (EXPre) and reported (EXPost) incidence of ‘nonspecific’ (whole person) feelings in response to acupuncture-type interventions, in particular electroacupuncture (EA) and transcutaneous electrical acupoint stimulation (TEAS). They were tested on 204 participants familiar with acupuncture in three separate cohorts (Pilot, CPD, Students). Their validity and reliability were assessed, a cluster analysis conducted, and the association between expectation and experience analysed, along with those items most frequently found, association with other trait and state measures, and the influence of various aspects of treatments on reported feelings. Results are briefly reported in our poster. Methods and further detailed material are provided in the online background information.


During the course of conducting a small survey of 20 experienced acupuncture practitioners and researchers in order to assess the content validity of these questionnaires, it became clear that many of us understand the phrase ‘nonspecific effects’ in quite different ways.

For example:
(1) To the researcher, it may mean those effects associated with the incidental elements of an intervention, in other words synonymous with placebo effects;

(2) To the acupuncture practitioner, it may mean those effects which are not specifically intended, or those associated with a ‘root’ rather than a ‘branch’ (local) treatment;

(3) To the acupuncture recipient, it may mean those effects which are incidental to their desired treatment outcome.

We would be interested to hear what YOU consider this phrase means. If you want to do this, please also let us know whether you are a researcher, practitioner (whether of acupuncture or some other therapy), acupuncture recipient, or just someone who is interested in this issue.

You can respond by emailing David Mayor (details below).

To Robert Kozarski and Tim Watson of the University of Hertfordshire; to those who gave freely of their advice early in the development of the questionnaires and to those who took part more recently in the content validity survey, in particular to Steven Birch for his wise advice on using the term ‘nonspecific’; to Klaus Linde and Louise Percival for drawing attention to ambiguities in question wording; and of course to the acupuncturists and other health practitioners who gave up considerable amounts of their time to take part in our EEG/HRV study, and those acupuncture students and practitioners who completed questionnaires as part of their learning about electroacupuncture.

Contact details
David Mayor acupuncture practitioner