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Nocebo hyperalgesia: contributions of social observation and body-related cognitive styles

Authors Vögtle E, Kröner-Herwig B, Barke A

Received 12 September 2015

Accepted for publication 13 January 2016

Published 22 April 2016 Volume 2016:9 Pages 241—249


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Kerui Gong

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Michael Schatman

Elisabeth Vögtle,1 Birgit Kröner-Herwig,1 Antonia Barke2
1Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Georg-Elias-Müller-Institute for Psychology, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, 2Department of Psychology, Division of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Philipps University Marburg, Marburg, Germany

Purpose: Recently, it has been shown that nocebo hyperalgesia can be acquired through observational learning. The aim of this study was to investigate socially induced nocebo hyperalgesia and its relationship with pain catastrophizing, somatic complaints, hypochondriacal concerns, and empathy.
Participants and methods: Ninety-seven women (43.1±15.5 years) were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions. Participants in the nocebo condition (NC) watched a video in which a female model displayed more pain when an ointment was applied and less pain when no ointment was applied. In the control condition (CC), the model demonstrated low pain with and without the ointment. Subsequently, all participants received three pressure pain stimuli (60 seconds) on each hand. On one hand, the ointment was applied prior to the stimulation. The order of the stimulation of the fingers (middle, index, or ring finger), the side of ointment application (left or right hand), and the side with which the stimulation began were randomized within each group and balanced across the groups. Depending on the randomization, the pressure pain application started with or without ointment and on the left or right hand. Pain ratings on a numerical rating scale (0–10) were collected. In addition, the participants completed questionnaires regarding body-related cognitive styles and empathy.
Results: There was a significant difference in the pain ratings between the CC and the NC. The effect of ointment application was also significant, but no interaction between condition and ointment application was found. Only in the CC did the nocebo response correlate with hypochondriacal concerns and somatic complaints.
Conclusion: Application of an ointment as well as the observation of a model demonstrating more pain after a treatment produced elevated pain ratings. Cognitive styles were not related to the socially induced nocebo response, but were related to the nocebo response in the CC.

Keywords: nocebo response, pain, social observation, pain catastrophizing, hypochondriasis

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