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Front Syst Neurosci. 2013 Sep 24;7:53. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2013.00053. eCollection 2013.

Pain predictability reverses valence ratings of a relief-associated stimulus.

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Department of Psychology (Biological Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy), University of Würzburg Würzburg, Germany.


Relief from pain is positively valenced and entails reward-like properties. Notably, stimuli that became associated with pain relief elicit reward-like implicit responses too, but are explicitly evaluated by humans as aversive. Since the unpredictability of pain makes pain more aversive, this study examined the hypotheses that the predictability of pain also modulates the valence of relief-associated stimuli. In two studies, we presented one conditioned stimulus (FORWARDCS+) before a painful unconditioned stimulus (US), another stimulus (BACKWARDCS+) after the painful US, and a third stimulus (CS-) was never associated with the US. In Study 1, FORWARDCS+ predicted half of the USs while the other half was delivered unwarned and followed by BACKWARDCS+. In Study 2, all USs were predicted by FORWARDCS+ and followed by BACKWARDCS+. In Study 1 both FORWARDCS+ and BACKWARDCS+ were rated as negatively valenced and high arousing after conditioning, while BACKWARDCS+ in Study 2 acquired positive valence and low arousal. Startle amplitude was significantly attenuated to BACKWARDCS+ compared to FORWARDCS+ in Study 2, but did not differ among CSs in Study 1. In summary, predictability of aversive events reverses the explicit valence of a relief-associated stimulus.


backward conditioning; forward conditioning; implicit and explicit responses; pain relief; threat unpredictability

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