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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jun 23;112(25):7863-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1504567112. Epub 2015 May 15.

Classical conditioning of analgesic and hyperalgesic pain responses without conscious awareness.

Author information

1
Program in Placebo Studies, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215; Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, 17176 Stockholm, Sweden karin.jensen@ki.se.
2
Program in Placebo Studies, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215;
3
Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, 17176 Stockholm, Sweden.

Abstract

Pain reduction and enhancement can be produced by means of conditioning procedures, yet the role of awareness during the acquisition stage of classical conditioning is unknown. We used psychophysical measures to establish whether conditioned analgesic and hyperalgesic responses could be acquired by unseen (subliminally presented) stimuli. A 2 × 2 factorial design, including subliminal/supraliminal exposures of conditioning stimuli (CS) during acquisition/extinction, was used. Results showed significant analgesic and hyperalgesic responses (P < 0.001), and responses were independent of CS awareness, as subliminal/supraliminal cues during acquisition/extinction led to comparable outcomes. The effect was significantly larger for hyperalgesic than analgesic responses (P < 0.001). Results demonstrate that conscious awareness of the CS is not required during either acquisition or extinction of conditioned analgesia or hyperalgesia. Our results support the notion that nonconscious stimuli have a pervasive effect on human brain function and behavior and may affect learning of complex cognitive processes such as psychologically mediated analgesic and hyperalgesic responses.

KEYWORDS:

awareness; classical conditioning; consciousness; nocebo; placebo

PMID:
25979940
PMCID:
PMC4485119
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1504567112
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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