Pain and the Placebo Effect

Magne Arve Flaten, Mustafa Al'Absi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Healthy volunteers or patients in pain often report less pain after treatment that is inactive, if they believe that the treatment will reduce their pain or other symptoms. The reduction of pain can be partly blocked by the administration of opioid antagonists. Research has also demonstrated reduction in central nervous system activation of pain-relevant areas when individuals were given a placebo but were told it was a painkiller. These findings suggest that a belief or expectation of pain relief generates central nervous system opioid activity that inhibits pain transmission to the cerebral cortex, with a consequent reduction in pain. These effects seem to extend to other symptoms and are implicated in the placebo effect in the context of other regimens. The brain's ability to inhibit pain due to placebo could be conceptualized as a homeostatic system that has evolved to provide protection to the system and enhance the organism's ability to cope.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Neuroscience of Pain, Stress, and Emotion
Subtitle of host publicationPsychological and Clinical Implications
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9780128005385
StatePublished - Jan 4 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Central nervous system
  • Cerebral cortex
  • Emotions
  • Opioid activity
  • Pain reduction
  • Placebo


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