Variability in placebo analgesia and the role of fear of pain--an ERP study

Pain. 2011 Oct;152(10):2405-2412. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.07.010. Epub 2011 Aug 27.


Fear of pain (FOP) and its effect on placebo analgesia was investigated. It was hypothesized that FOP should interfere with placebo-mediated pain inhibition and result in weaker placebo responding in pain intensity, pain unpleasantness, stress, and event-related potentials to contact heat pain. Thirty-three subjects participated in a balanced 2 condition (natural history, placebo)×3 test (pretest, posttest 1, posttest 2) within-subject design, tested on 2 separate days. FOP was measured by the Fear of Pain Questionnaire and subjective stress by the Short Adjective Check List. Placebo effects were found on reported pain unpleasantness and N2 and P2 amplitudes. FOP was related to reduced placebo responding in pain unpleasantness, but this was only evident for the subjects who received the placebo condition on day 1. Subjects who received the placebo condition on day 1 experienced more pretest stress than those who received the placebo condition on day 2 (ie, reversed condition order), and this explained the interaction effect on placebo responding. FOP was related to reduced placebo responding on P2 amplitude, whereas placebo responding on N2 amplitude was unaffected by FOP. Higher placebo responses on N2 and P2 amplitudes were both related to higher placebo analgesic magnitude in pain unpleasantness. In conclusion, increased FOP was found to reduce subjective and electrophysiological placebo analgesic responses.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesia / methods
  • Analgesia / psychology*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Catastrophization / physiopathology
  • Catastrophization / psychology*
  • Catastrophization / therapy
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Measurement / psychology
  • Placebo Effect
  • Placebos / pharmacology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Young Adult


  • Placebos