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Moisturising cream – read the label



This year’s theme focuses on increasing the awareness of clinicians, scientists, and the public of our growing pain knowledge and how it can benefit those living with pain.

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Here is a cool study from Oxford University – they led participants to believe that they were applying either a ‘rich moisturising cream’ or a ‘basic cream’ to their forearm and asked them to rate how it felt – pleasantness and richness etc. They also scanned their brains.

The team reports that

These new findings thus show that cognitive modulation influences affective representations of touch and/or the sight of touch in a pregenual/orbitofrontal cortex system in which another somatosensory stimulus, oral texture, is represented [1]; in which correlations with pleasantness ratings are found [2,3,4]; and in which pleasant touch produces activation [5].

Of course, one always has to be careful not to interpret brain imaging findings as a neophrenologist might and conclude that the pregenual/orbitofrontal system actually holds ‘pleasantness’, which would imply that if we took it out of the brain it could somehow produce pleasantness by itself.  I reckon we can be confident with this fMRI data to conclude that the participants were not lying – that what they thought they were getting modulated how it felt.  This reminds me of a study using expensive vs cheap wine…..

If you are interested in these things – check out Charles Spence’s stuff – including the work for which he won the Ignoble Prize.

And here’s the link to the study:
McCabe C, Rolls ET, Bilderbeck, A and McGlone F (2008) Cognitive influences on the affective representation of touch and the sight of touch in the human brain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2008 3(2):97-108


  1. de Araujo IET, Rolls ET (2004) The representation in the human brain of food texture and oral fat. Journal of Neuroscience  24:3086–93
  2. Kringelbach ML, O’Doherty J, Rolls ET, Andrews C. (2003) Activation of the human orbitofrontal cortex to a liquid food stimulus is correlated with its subjective pleasantness. Cerebral Cortex 13:1064–71.
  3. de Araujo IET, Rolls ET, Velazco MI, Margot C, Cayeux I. (2005) Cognitive modulation of olfactory processing. Neuron  46:671–9.
  4. McCabe C, Rolls ET. (2007) Umami: a delicious flavor formed by convergence of taste and olfactory pathways in the human brain. European Journal of Neuroscience 25:1855–64
  5. Rolls ET, O’Doherty J, Kringelbach ML, et al. (2003b) Representations of pleasant and painful touch in the human orbitofrontal and cingulate cortices. Cerebral Cortex 13:308–17.
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