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PLoS One. 2015 Feb 9;10(2):e0117270. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0117270. eCollection 2015.

A Bayesian perspective on sensory and cognitive integration in pain perception and placebo analgesia.

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Department of Medical and Biological Sciences, Universit degli Studi di Udine, Udine, Italy.


The placebo effect is a component of any response to a treatment (effective or inert), but we still ignore why it exists. We propose that placebo analgesia is a facet of pain perception, others being the modulating effects of emotions, cognition and past experience, and we suggest that a computational understanding of pain may provide a unifying explanation of these phenomena. Here we show how Bayesian decision theory can account for such features and we describe a model of pain that we tested against experimental data. Our model not only agrees with placebo analgesia, but also predicts that learning can affect pain perception in other unexpected ways, which experimental evidence supports. Finally, the model can also reflect the strategies used by pain perception, showing that modulation by disparate factors is intrinsic to the pain process.

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