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Prior Pain Exposure and Mere Possession of a Placebo Analgesic Predict Placebo Analgesia: Findings From a Randomized, Double-Blinded, Controlled Trial

Published:October 27, 2020DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2020.10.004

      Highlights

      • Absence of prior pain and merely possess a placebo analgesic enhanced pain relief .
      • The observed placebo analgesic effects were driven by expectations.
      • Experiencing prior pain hinder effects of experimenter-provided pain expectation.
      • Possessing a placebo analgesic induces object-to-self transference expectation.
      • Prior pain experience and placebo possession jointing influence pain experience.

      Abstract

      A recent study found that merely possessing a placebo analgesic reduces pain. The current study tested for a possible moderator of this effect. Specifically, does the mere possession of a placebo analgesic affect pain for individuals with and without immediate prior experience with the pain task? Healthy participants (N = 127) were randomized to prior pain (PP) condition or without prior pain (No-PP) condition. In the PP condition, participants first did a preliminary trial of a cold pressor test (CPT) to induce direct experience with this pain stimulus. Then they were randomized to possess an inert cream described as either an analgesic cream or an anti-itch cream (pain-irrelevant control object). Participants then completed the main CPT. In the No-PP condition, participants underwent identical procedures and randomization except that they did not do a preliminary CPT, thus having no immediate prior CPT pain experience. We found a significant prior pain experience and possession status interaction effect on placebo analgesia. Participants in the No-PP condition showed evidence of lower pain when they merely possessed an analgesic cream than an anti-itch cream. Such mere possession effect was not found in the PP condition. The impact of expectancy and emotion on the underlying process are discussed.

      Perspective

      This article presents a novel finding that prior pain exposure and mere possession of a placebo analgesic predicted placebo analgesia. It offers a novel perspective on the time course of placebo effect. It provides practical implications on potential pain intervention for clinicians and paradigm design for researchers of placebo study.

      Key Words

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