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Placebo Analgesia From a Rubber Hand

      Highlights

      • The rubber hand illusion is an illusion of embodiment over an artificial limb.
      • A sham analgesic applied to the rubber hand can produce placebo analgesia.
      • Embodiment may influence expectations of treatment efficacy and the placebo effect.

      Abstract

      Placebo analgesia, reductions in pain after administration of an inert treatment, is a well documented phenomenon. We report, to our knowledge, the first demonstration that placebo analgesia can be experienced when a sham analgesic is applied onto a rubber hand. The effect was obtained by exploiting the rubber hand illusion, in which ownership is felt over a rubber arm that is unattached to the body. Under conditions of synchronous as well as asynchronous visuotactile stimulation, a thermal pain stimulus was delivered on the real arm of 20 participants and seemingly also on the rubber arm, before and after applying a sham analgesic and a control cream only to the rubber arm. During synchronous visuotactile stimulation, pain was experienced on the rubber arm, and the application of the sham analgesic to the rubber arm significantly decreased the severity of reported pain. This shows that experience of the body can modulate expectations and the induction of placebo analgesia.

      Perspective

      This article presents an experiment suggesting that a placebo treatment applied to a rubber hand during the rubber hand illusion can produce placebo analgesia. This finding indicates that embodiment may influence the placebo effect, a previously unexamined factor in the treatment process with potential applications to treatment administration.

      Key words

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