40 pain-free volunteers took part in an experiment funded by the Arthritis Research Campaign using an artificial pain stimulus, and were led to expect reduced pain after the application of a cream which was actually a placebo.
Lead researcher Alison Watson said: “Any medical treatment involves a placebo element; the psychological suggestion that it is going to work. So we theorised that a proportion of any treatment’s effectiveness would relate to how much we wanted it to work, believed in it or trusted the person administering it.
“Doctors and nurses can transmit a lot of information about a treatment and its effectiveness through their words and gestures. We know that when people visit their preferred GP the treatment or advice they receive will be more effective than that given by a GP they prefer not to see. Similarly, red pills have been shown to be more effective than green ones; so we wanted to test whether all this was due to expectations of successful treatment and trust in the person giving it.”
24 of the volunteers initially received a moderately painful heat stimulus to both arms. The placebo cream was then applied to the skin, but they were led to believe that the cream on one of their arms may be a local anaesthetic.
After the application of the cream, the intensity of the heat stimulus was turned down on one arm without informing the volunteer. Subsequently the intensity was returned to its previous level, but - in contrast to the 16 people in the control group -67% of the treatment group continued to perceive the heat as less painful.
Alison said: “The expectation of pain relief leads to a release of endorphins, the brain’s natural pain killers, which is likely to contribute to a sensation of reward and well-being.
“Interestingly, there was an exact split in the range of responses to the placebo; a third of people reporting a reduction in the pain intensity in the ‘treated’ arm only, another third in both arms and the remainder’s intensity-ratings not being influenced by the application of the cream. The different responses can be related to the different levels of pain relief the volunteers expected, which may have allowed their individual suggestibility to influence their assessment of the pain experience.
“Our findings suggest that different individuals may have different styles of placebo response, which is likely to affect how they respond to real treatments too. Understanding these differences could better inform the way doctors and nurses provide treatments in the future.
“It could also facilitate more effective clinical trial design, which could substantially reduce the costs of developing new pain killers for patients with conditions like cancer and arthritis.
“A further, exciting possibility is that we could develop talking and drug-based therapies to enhance people’s response to placebos. The experimental methods we’re using will allow us to test out such possibilities as a method of treating pain.”
Jon Keighren | alfa
A promising target for kidney fibrosis
21.04.2017 | Brigham and Women's Hospital
Stem cell transplants: activating signal paths may protect from graft-versus-host disease
20.04.2017 | Technische Universität München
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy