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Papers of the Week

Papers: 22 Jan 2022 - 28 Jan 2022


Human Studies

2022 Jan 25


How do placebo effects contribute to mindfulness-based analgesia? Probing acute pain effects and interactions using a randomized balanced placebo design.


Recent sham-controlled studies suggest placebo effects contribute to acute pain relief following mindfulness interventions. However, the specific effects of mindfulness processes and their interaction with placebo effects remain unclear. This study aimed to characterize the role of mindfulness and placebo processes underlying mindfulness-based pain attenuation. Both treatment (focused-attention mindfulness vs sham) and instruction ("told mindfulness" vs "told sham") were manipulated in a balanced placebo design. Changes in acute heat pain were evaluated in 153 healthy adults randomized to receive 6 x 20 minutes of one of the four treatment by instruction interventions or no treatment. Participants receiving any intervention demonstrated improved pain outcomes (unpleasantness, intensity and tolerance) relative to no treatment. The instruction manipulation increased expectation for pain relief in those told mindfulness relative to told sham, but there were no main effects or interactions of treatment or instruction on pain outcomes. However, irrespective of actual intervention received, the belief of receiving mindfulness predicted increased pain threshold and tolerance, with expectancy fully mediating the effect on pain tolerance. These findings suggest a lack of specific effects of mindfulness and instruction on acute pain. Nonetheless, participants' expectancies and beliefs about the treatment they received did predict pain relief. Together with the overall improvement following any intervention, these findings suggest that expectancy and belief may play a stronger role in attenuating acute pain in novices following brief mindfulness interventions than the actual mindfulness-specific processes or instructions delivered.