Temporal expectancy induced by the mere possession of a placebo analgesic affects placebo analgesia: Preliminary findings from a randomized controlled trial

Wai Lan Victoria YEUNG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

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Abstract

Research on placebo analgesia usually shows that people experienced a reduction in pain after using a placebo analgesic. An emerging line of research argues that, under some circumstances, merely possessing (but not using) a placebo analgesic could induce placebo analgesia. The current study investigates how temporary expectation of pain reduction associated with different forms of possessing a placebo analgesic affects pain outcomes. Healthy participants (n = 90) were presented with a vial of olive oil (placebo), described as a blended essential oil that blocks pain sensations upon nasal inhalation, and were asked to anticipate the benefits of such analgesic oil to the self (such as anticipating the analgesic oil to reduce their pain). Participants were randomized into one of three different possession conditions: physical-possession condition (participants possessed a tangible placebo analgesic oil, inducing an expectation to acquire analgesic benefit early upon the experience of pain), psychological-possession condition (participants possessed a coupon, which can be redeemed for a placebo analgesic oil, inducing an expectation to acquire analgesic benefit later upon the experience of pain), or no-possession condition. Participants did a cold pressor test (CPT) to experience experimentally-induced pain on their non-dominant hand. Their objective physical pain responses (pain-threshold and pain-tolerance), and subjective psychological pain perception (pain intensity, severity, quality, and unpleasantness) were measured. Results revealed that participants in the physical-possession condition reported greater pain-threshold, F(2, 85) = 6.65, p = 0.002, and longer pain-tolerance, F(2, 85) = 7.19, p = 0.001 than participants in the psychological-possession and no-possession conditions. No significant group difference was found in subjective pain perception. The results of this study can advance knowledge about pain mechanisms and novel pain management.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1395
Number of pages15
JournalScientific Reports
Volume12
Issue number1
Early online date26 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

The author thanks Mr. Eric Kenson Yau, Mr. Pui Chuen Tam and Mr. Ting Kin Ng for research support; Prof. Michael Bond and Mr. Aaron Scott for insightful discussion. Prof. Irving Kirsch and anonymous reviewers for valuable comments. And Dr. Julian Dooley for editing the final version of the manuscript.

Te research was supported by the General Research Fund (13600617) awarded by the Research Grant Council, Hong Kong; the Faculty Research Grant (SSFRG/19/1/1) awarded by Lingnan University; and the reserved fund provided by the Department of Applied Psychology, Lingnan University.

© 2022. The Author(s).

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