An experiment was conducted to examine whether the mere possession of a placebo analgesic cream would affect perceived pain intensity in a laboratory pain-perception test. Healthy participants read a medical explanation of pain aimed at inducing a desire to seek pain relief and then were informed that a placebo cream was an effective analgesic drug. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive the cream as an unexpected gift, whereas the other half did not receive the cream. Subsequently, all participants performed the cold-pressor task. We found that participants who received the cream but did not use it reported lower levels of pain intensity during the cold-pressor task than those who did not receive the cream. Our findings constitute initial evidence that simply possessing a placebo analgesic can reduce pain intensity. The study represents the first attempt to investigate the role of mere possession in understanding placebo analgesia. Possible mechanisms and future directions are discussed.
This research was part of a larger project supported by a Faculty Research Grant (FRG #02133) to the first author.
- Placebo effect
- Mere possession
- Cold pressor
- Placebo analgesia