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Papers of the Week

Papers: 1 Jun 2024 - 7 Jun 2024

2024 May 31

J Pain


Social learning of placebo effects in pain: a critical review of the literature and a proposed revised model.


Bajcar EA, Bąbel P


Relatively recently, in 2009, experimental studies were undertaken to determine the role of social observational learning in forming hypoalgesic, analgesic and hyperalgesic responses to a placebo. The research findings obtained in studies published before 2018 were integrated and formed the basis of the theoretical model of social learning of placebo effects in pain proposed by Bajcar and Bąbel. This model considered the involvement of different types of modeling (i.e., behavioral modeling, symbolic modeling, and verbal modeling) in shaping placebo hypoalgesia/analgesia and nocebo hyperalgesia. The model assumed that pain expectancies might be involved in observationally induced placebo effects in pain and that the effectiveness of observational learning in shaping placebo effects could be moderated by the observer’s dispositions, especially empathy. Based on the latest research data, we propose a modified and significantly extended version of this model. The revised model includes the involvement of particular types of modeling in placebo effects and their role in shaping conscious pain-related expectancies. It explains the role of dispositional empathy in shaping observationally induced placebo effects. Notably, the extended version of the model considers the contribution of the characteristics of the observed person to the magnitude of placebo effects induced by social learning. PERSPECTIVE: The paper proposes a comprehensive theoretical approach to explaining the role of observational learning in shaping placebo effects in pain. The proposed model emphasizes the potential of this form of learning in shaping placebo responses and indicates factors that can modify the effectiveness of observational learning.