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Papers of the Week

Papers: 11 Feb 2023 - 17 Feb 2023


Human Studies

2023 Feb 09

Sci Rep




Harnessing the placebo effect to enhance emotion regulation effectiveness and choice.


Shafir R, Israel M, Colloca L


The placebo effect demonstrates how positive expectancies shape the effectiveness of various treatments. Across studies, placebo treatments are interventions (creams, pills, etc.) that are presented to individuals as, and are learned to be, beneficial for them. This study tested whether placebo-induced expectancies can be harnessed to improve individuals’ internal emotion regulation attempts. Participants implemented two types of distraction, an emotion regulation strategy involving attentional disengagement, to attenuate fear of pain. In a typical conditioning paradigm, the placebo-distraction was introduced as an effective strategy (verbal suggestion) and was surreptitiously paired with reduced pain (conditioning), whereas the control-distraction was introduced as noneffective and was surreptitiously paired with increased pain. As predicted, we found that during a later test phase, where pain intensity was identical, the placebo-distraction resulted in reduced self-reported fear of pain, relative to the control-distraction. Moreover, we utilized a robust behavioral choice measure, demonstrating increased preferences for the placebo-distraction. We additionally tested whether these effects generalize to a different emotional context of fear of unpleasant pictures. In that context, the placebo-distraction was as effective as the control-distraction, but was substantially preferred. This study demonstrates that the placebo effect can be expanded to include individuals’ internal attempts to influence their conditions.