Despite extensive research, the mechanism(s) by which acupuncture works remain unclear. Evidence points towards psychological and social mechanisms of acupuncture, but few studies have looked at the factors that may influence those mechanisms. We performed an original study of the relationship between experience, knowledge, and expectations in acupuncture patients. We found that social factors may influence expectations for patients seeking acupuncture, but that the factors influencing a patient’s experience of acupuncture cannot be easily generalized to the overall patient population. Our study may help future investigators avoid making incorrect generalizations based on circumstantial, context-specific evidence by providing a model for determining comparability within and between patient populations.