Classical conditioning and the placebo effect

G. H. Montgomery, I. Kirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

376 Scopus citations

Abstract

Stimulus substitution models posit that placebo responses are due to pairings of conditional and unconditional stimuli. Expectancy theory maintains that conditioning trials produce placebo response expectancies, rather than placebo responses, and that the expectancies elicit the responses. We tested these opposing models by providing some participants with information intended to impede the formation of placebo expectancies during conditioning trials and by assessing placebo expectancies. Although conditioning trials significantly enhanced placebo responding, this effect was eliminated by adding expectancies to the regression equation, indicating that the effect of pairing trials on placebo response was mediated completely by expectancy. Verbal information reversed the effect of conditioning trials on both placebo expectancies and placebo responses, and the magnitude of the placebo effect increased significantly over 10 extinction trials. These data disconfirm a stimulus substitution explanation and provide strong support for an expectancy interpretation of the conditioned placebo enhancement produced by these methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-113
Number of pages7
JournalPain
Volume72
Issue number1-2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Conditioning
  • Expectancies
  • Placebo responses
  • Stimulus substitution

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Classical conditioning and the placebo effect'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this