Merely Possessing a Placebo Analgesic Reduced Pain Intensity: Preliminary Findings from a Randomized Design

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    As a result of previous studies (Branstetter-Rost et al. 2009; Chan et al. 2013), we did not recruit participants who had a history of chronic pain problems, hypertension, circulatory disorders, history of cardiac events, metabolic disease, or neuropathy or who were using analgesics, tranquilizers, antidepressants, or blood-pressure medication, or who were pregnant or smokers.

  2. 2.

    The results remain unchanged when these two variables were not statistically controlled.

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Correspondence to Victoria Wai-lanYeung.

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This research was part of a larger project supported by a Faculty Research Grant (FRG #02133) to the first author.

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The research involved human participants.

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Wai-lanYeung, V., Geers, A. & Kam, S.M. Merely Possessing a Placebo Analgesic Reduced Pain Intensity: Preliminary Findings from a Randomized Design. Curr Psychol 38, 194–203 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9601-0

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Keywords

  • Placebo effect
  • Mere possession
  • Cold pressor
  • Placebo analgesia
  • Pain