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Psychol Bull. 2004 Mar;130(2):341-3; discussion 344-5.

Conditioning, expectancy, and the placebo effect: comment on Stewart-Williams and Podd (2004).

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269-1020, USA.


Classical conditioning is included as a component in the response expectancy model of placebo responding. Though introspectable when attention is drawn to them, expectancies need not be in awareness while guiding behavior. Most placebo effects are linked to expectancies, and classical conditioning is one factor (but not the only factor) by which these expectancies can be produced and altered. Conditioned placebo effects without expectancies exist but are relatively rare in humans. The adaptive advantage of cognition is increased response flexibility. For it to convey that benefit, however, it must be capable of overriding the influence of simpler automatic processes. Thus, the higher up the phylogenetic scale, the smaller the role of nonconscious conditioning processes and the larger the role of cognition.

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