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      The sustained influence of prior experience induced by social observation on placebo and nocebo responses

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          Social observation is one of the main ways to gain experience. Similar to first-person experience, observational experience affects the effectiveness of subsequent treatments. Yet, it is still undetermined whether the influence of social observation on placebo and nocebo effects to subsequent treatments remains even if related experience occurred a few days ago.


          Eighty-two participants were recruited and each of them was randomly assigned to one of the four experimental groups acquiring first-person or observational experience, which was either effective or ineffective. For the first-person groups, participants were presented with pain cues paired with pain stimuli in person. In the effective condition, low pain cues were paired with low pain stimuli, and high pain cues were paired with high pain stimuli. In contrast, the associations between cues and pain stimuli were not established in the ineffective condition. Similarly, for the observational groups, participants received effective/ineffective treatment through observation. Five or six days later, all participants underwent a conditioning phase followed by a test phase composed of two tests, where participants were asked to report their perceived pain.


          Placebo and nocebo responses to subsequent treatments can be affected by prior experience gained several days ago regardless of acquisition ways, and both placebo and nocebo responses in the effective condition were significantly larger than those in the ineffective condition. Furthermore, once placebo and nocebo effects were elicited, the latter was more persistent, while the former was more likely to diminish.


          First-person and observational experience obtained a few days ago could affect the following treatments, which advance our understanding of the crucial and sustained influence of social observation on placebo analgesia and nocebo hyperalgesia, and provide insights into clinical applications.

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          Most cited references 46

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          The face in the crowd revisited: a threat advantage with schematic stimuli.

          Schematic threatening, friendly, and neutral faces were used to test the hypothesis that humans preferentially orient their attention toward threat. Using a visual search paradigm, participants searched for discrepant faces in matrices of otherwise identical faces. Across 5 experiments, results consistently showed faster and more accurate detection of threatening than friendly targets. The threat advantage was obvious regardless of whether the conditions favored parallel or serial search (i.e., involved neutral or emotional distractors), and it was valid for inverted faces. Threatening angry faces were more quickly and accurately detected than were other negative faces (sad or "scheming"), which suggests that the threat advantage can be attributed to threat rather than to the negative valence or the uniqueness of the target display.
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            Facial gestures have been given an increasingly critical role in models of emotion. The biological significance of interindividual transmission of emotional signals is a pivotal assumption for placing the face in a central position in these models. This assumption invited a logical corollary, examined in this article: Face-processing should be highly efficient. Three experiments documented an asymmetry in the processing of emotionally discrepant faces embedded in crowds. The results suggested that threatening faces pop out of crowds, perhaps as a result of a preattentive, parallel search for signals of direct threat.
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              The subjective experience of pain: where expectations become reality.

              Our subjective sensory experiences are thought to be heavily shaped by interactions between expectations and incoming sensory information. However, the neural mechanisms supporting these interactions remain poorly understood. By using combined psychophysical and functional MRI techniques, brain activation related to the intensity of expected pain and experienced pain was characterized. As the magnitude of expected pain increased, activation increased in the thalamus, insula, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and other brain regions. Pain-intensity-related brain activation was identified in a widely distributed set of brain regions but overlapped partially with expectation-related activation in regions, including the anterior insula and ACC. When expected pain was manipulated, expectations of decreased pain powerfully reduced both the subjective experience of pain and activation of pain-related brain regions, such as the primary somatosensory cortex, insular cortex, and ACC. These results confirm that a mental representation of an impending sensory event can significantly shape neural processes that underlie the formulation of the actual sensory experience and provide insight as to how positive expectations diminish the severity of chronic disease states.

                Author and article information

                J Pain Res
                J Pain Res
                Journal of Pain Research
                Journal of Pain Research
                Dove Medical Press
                08 December 2017
                : 10
                : 2769-2780
                [1 ]Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing, China
                [2 ]CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Beijing, China
                [3 ]Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Li Hu; Xuejing Lu, Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 16 Lincui Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100101, China, Tel +86 180 8405 3555, Fax +86 10 8424 9369, Email huli@ 123456psych.ac.cn ; luxj@ 123456psych.ac.cn
                © 2017 Zhang et al. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited

                The full terms of this license are available at https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/). By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

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