Individual differences in reward responding explain placebo-induced expectations and effects

Neuron. 2007 Jul 19;55(2):325-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2007.06.028.


Expectations, positive or negative, are modulating factors influencing behavior. They are also thought to underlie placebo effects, impacting perceptions and biological processes. Using healthy human subjects, we examined the role of the nucleus accumbens (NAC), a region centrally involved in the encoding of reward expectation, in the formation of placebo responses. Employing functional molecular imaging, activation of NAC dopamine (DA) release was observed during placebo administration and related to its anticipated effects, perception-anticipation mismatches, and placebo effect development. In additional functional MRI studies, the expectation of monetary gain increased NAC synaptic activity in a manner proportional to placebo-induced DA release, anticipated effects, perception-anticipation differentials, and actual placebo effects. Individual variations in NAC response to reward expectation accounted for 28% of the variance in the formation of placebo analgesia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Pain / metabolism
  • Pain / psychology
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Reference Values
  • Reward*
  • Set, Psychology*


  • Dopamine