AbstractBackground and aimsPain modulation via expectation is a well-documented phenomenon. So far it has been shown that expectations about effectiveness of a certain treatment enhance the effectiveness of different analgesics and of drug-free pain treatments. Also, studies demonstrate that people assess same-intensity stimuli differently, depending on the experimentally induced expectations regarding the characteristics of the stimuli. Prolonged effect of expectation on pain perception and possible symmetry in conditions of lower- and higher-intensity stimuli is yet to be studied. Aim of this study is to determine the effect of expectation on the perception of pain experimentally induced by the series of higher- and lower-intensity stimuli.Methods192 healthy participants were assigned to four experimental groups differing by expectations regarding the intensity of painful stimuli series. Expectations of two groups were congruent with actual stimuli; one group expected and received lower-intensity stimuli and the other expected and received higher-intensity stimuli. Expectations of the remaining two groups were not congruent with actual stimuli; one group expected higher-intensity stimuli, but actually received lower-intensity stimuli while the other group expected lower-intensity stimuli, but in fact received higher-intensity ones. Each group received a series of 24 varied-intensity electrical stimuli rated by the participants on a 30° intensity scale.ResultsExpectation manipulation had statistically significant effect on pain intensity assessment. When expecting lower-intensity stimuli, the participants underestimated pain intensity and when expecting higher-intensity stimuli, they overestimated pain intensity. The effect size of expectations upon pain intensity assessment was equal for both lower- and higher-intensity stimuli.ConclusionThe obtained results imply that expectation manipulation can achieve the desired effect of decreasing or increasing both slight and more severe pain for a longer period of time. Manipulation via expectation before the stimuli series was proven to be effective for pain modulation in the entire series of stimuli which lasted around 10 min. The results suggest a potential benefit of manipulating expectations to alleviate emerging pain, since the obtained effects are moderate to large.ImplicationsIt seems that expectation effect is strong enough to “overcome” even the direct effect of stimulus intensity (at least in the low to moderate intensity range), which suggests potential benefits of verbal instructions even in rather painful stimuli.
Scandinavian Journal of Pain – de Gruyter
Published: Jan 1, 2017
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