Pain and other somatosensory sensations, such as itch, can be effectively decreased by placebo effects and increased by nocebo effects. There are indications that placebo effects on pain generalize to other sensations and that nocebo effects generalize within itch modalities. However, it has not yet been investigated whether learned effects can generalize within pain stimulus modalities or from pain to itch. Our aims were to test whether placebo and nocebo effects can generalize within pain modalities, i.e., from heat pain to pressure pain, and across somatosensory sensations with psychophysiological similarities, i.e., from heat pain to cowhage-evoked itch. For this purpose, sixty-five healthy participants were randomized to either a placebo or nocebo group. All participants firstly underwent a conditioning and verbal suggestion procedure with heat pain stimuli. Subsequently, responses to heat pain, pressure pain, and cowhage-evoked itch stimuli were tested. Results showed that altered levels of heat and pressure pain with the conditioned cue in both placebo and nocebo groups in the expected directions, but no significant difference in itch in both groups. In conclusion, placebo and nocebo effects on pain may generalize within but not across stimulus modalities. This study provides a novel perspective on the role that response generalization plays in physical symptoms.
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