Placebo improves pleasure and pain through opposite modulation of sensory processing

Placebo effects illustrate the power of the human brain; simply expecting an improvement can alter pain processing and produce analgesia. We induced placebo improvement of both negative and positive feelings (painful and pleasant touch) in healthy humans and compared the brain processing using functional MRI. Pain reduction dampened sensory processing in the brain, whereas increased touch pleasantness increased sensory processing. Neurocircuitry associated with emotion and reward underpinned improvement of both pain and pleasant touch. Our findings suggest that expectation of improvement can recruit common neurocircuitry, which up- or down-regulates sensory processing, depending on whether the starting point is painful or pleasant. These results promote widening the scope of medical research to improvement of positive experiences and pleasure.

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