The perception of pain is sensitive to various mental processes such as the feelings and beliefs that someone has about pain. It is therefore not exclusively driven by the noxious input. Attentional modulation involving the descending pain modulatory system has been examined extensively in neuroimaging studies. However, the investigation of neural mechanisms underlying more complex cognitive modulation is an emerging field in pain research. Recent findings indicate an engagement of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex during more complex modulation, leading to a change or reappraisal of the emotional significance of pain. Taking placebo-induced analgesia as an example, we discuss the contribution of attention, expectation and reappraisal as three basic mechanisms that are important for the cognitive modulation of pain.