A recent study found that merely possessing a placebo analgesic reduces pain. The current study tested for a possible moderator of this effect. Specifically, does the mere possession of a placebo analgesic affect pain for individuals with and without immediate prior experience with the pain task? Healthy participants (N=127) were randomized to prior pain (PP) condition or without prior pain (No-PP) condition. In the PP condition, participants first did a preliminary trial of a cold pressor test (CPT) to induce direct experience with this pain stimulus. Then they were randomized to possess an inert cream described as either an analgesic cream or an anti-itch cream (pain-irrelevant control object). Participants then completed the main CPT. In the No-PP condition, participants underwent identical procedures and randomization except that they did not do a preliminary CPT, thus having no immediate prior CPT pain experience. We found a significant prior pain experience and possession status interaction effect on placebo analgesia. Participants in the No-PP condition showed evidence of lower pain when they merely possessed an analgesic cream than an anti-itch cream. Such mere possession effect was not found in the PP condition. The impact of expectancy and emotion on the underlying process are discussed. PERSPECTIVE: This article presents a novel finding that prior pain exposure and mere possession of a placebo analgesic predicted placebo analgesia. It offers a novel perspective on the time course of placebo effect. It provides practical implications on potential pain intervention for clinicians and paradigm design for researchers of placebo study.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Inc.