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Papers of the Week

Papers: 2 Dec 2023 - 8 Dec 2023

2023 Dec 04

J Pain


Pain rating is worth a thousand words. Nocebo hyperalgesia induced by verbal modeling prevails over the effects of symbolic modeling and verbal suggestion.


Rubanets D, Badzińska J, Kłosowska J, Bąbel P, Bajcar EA


This study compares the effectiveness of verbal modeling, symbolic modeling, and verbal suggestion in inducing nocebo hyperalgesia. It is the first study to examine the contribution of stress to observationally induced nocebo hyperalgesia. This study’s experimental groups represented various sources of social information: a group of people participating in the study (verbal modeling), a single participant (symbolic modeling), and an experimenter (verbal suggestion). During the experiment, participants received electrocutaneous stimuli at the same intensity, some of which were applied with a nocebo (sham device). Participants in the verbal modeling group were acquainted with pain ratings that had allegedly been provided by other participants. The ratings suggested that other participants experienced more pain in the nocebo trials than in the control trials. In the symbolic modeling group, participants observed a videotaped model experiencing more pain in the nocebo than in the control trials. In the verbal suggestion group, participants received a verbal suggestion of hyperalgesia in the nocebo trials and no suggestion in the control trials. No manipulations were used in the control group. To investigate whether nocebo hyperalgesia is stable over time, an additional extinction phase was conducted. Nocebo hyperalgesia was induced by verbal modeling only and was partially mediated by expectancy. Stress was a significant moderator of the induced effect. Nocebo hyperalgesia was extinguished during the extinction phase. The obtained results provide potential implications for minimizing nocebo hyperalgesia in clinical practice by, for instance, controlling patients’ expectancies and stress levels. PERSPECTIVE: The study shows the role of pain-related information derived from other people in shaping negative treatment experiences in the individual. Because information from others has a particular impact on individuals experiencing stress, both this information and the stress level of patients should be monitored in the treatment process.