Friday, September 23rd
1:30pm-3:00pm EDT


Topical Workshop




714 A

Demystifying Mechanisms of Placebo Effects Across the Lifespan

The placebo effect is one of the most striking and well-known demonstrations of the mind’s influence on the experience of pain. While for decades clinical trials have aimed to reduce the placebo effect, there is growing interest in leveraging the placebo effect to improve pain treatments and to relieve suffering. This includes moving beyond a narrow understanding of the placebo effect as expectations for a placebo pill, and instead moving towards an understanding that the brain’s ‘inner pharmacy’ can be leveraged in a variety of ways through clinical care. To effectively leverage these placebo effects in clinical care, it is essential to understand their psychological and neurobiological mechanisms. In this Panel Workshop, our three speakers will share cutting-edge findings that demonstrate how placebo effects operate through a variety of mechanisms including conditioning effects, social learning, and via ‘mindsets’ about the body and its capacity to heal. Our speakers will also highlight how placebo effects may change with age, sharing novel data from child and adult samples. Finally, our speakers will discuss why demystifying placebo mechanisms is critical to effectively and ethically leveraging placebo effects in clinical care across the lifespan.


1:30pm EDT3:00pm EDT

Age, Sex and Race Effects on Placebo Analgesia: Results from a Large Cohort Study in Chronic Pain and Healthy Participants

Tracks: Placebo
Categories: Topical Workshop
Presented By: Prof. Luana Colloca

This talk will present recent results with sex, race, and age being explored in a large cross-sectional study enrolling over 800 chronic pain patients and matched controls. Colloca and her team were the first to demonstrate influences of race/ethnicity on placebo hypoalgesia. Racial effects on placebo hypoalgesia are small and negligible. AfroAmerican/Black participants have lower placebo effects which are mediated by conditioning strength. Concordance between the experimenter and participant race induced greater placebo hypoalgesia in chronic pain patients hinting to the fact that disparities and racial biases may play a role. Independently of gonadal hormone levels, women show stronger placebo effects than men. There were also statistically significant sex differences for the conditioning strength and reinforced expectations whereby reinforced expectations mediated the sex-related larger placebo effects in women. Finally, distinct adulthood ages contribute to larger placebo effects in chronic pain patients with placebo effects (unpublished data). Overall, these findings are new, informative for clinical practice and trials and new age-related research approaches.

1:30pm EDT3:00pm EDT

Leveraging Mindsets to Ethically Harness the Placebo Effect in Adults and Youth

Tracks: Placebo
Categories: Topical Workshop

Dr. Lauren Heathcote will argue that the power of the placebo does not reside in the sham treatment itself; rather, it comes from the psychosocial forces that surround the patient and the treatment. To that end, she will share new data suggesting that ‘mindsets’ are key mechanisms involved in the placebo effect in both adults and in youth. In a series of new cross-sectional studies, she will show that mindsets about the body and its capacity to heal are uniquely associated with pain outcomes in over 200 children and adults with chronic pain as well as childhood cancer survivors. She will also share the findings of a new experimental study with 800 adults receiving the covid vaccine, in which a brief body mindset intervention changed the report and experience of aches and pains and other flu-like symptoms; this mindset intervention is now being applied to youth undergoing painful surgical procedures.  

1:30pm EDT3:00pm EDT

Pain, Placebo, and Positive Feedback Loops

Tracks: Placebo
Categories: Topical Workshop
Presented By: Prof. Tor D. Wager

Dr. Tor Wager will share how social influence and conditioned cue effects act as key mechanisms driving placebo effects in adults, and how these could be ethically leveraged to enhance placebo effects in clinical care.  He will argue that these mechanisms can create the conditions for positive feedback loops between beliefs and the experience of pain and other symptoms. Targeting these feedback loops can result in effective psychological treatments for chronic pain.  


Prof. Tor D. Wager

Diana L. Taylor Distinguished Professor
Dartmouth College

Prof. Luana Colloca

MPower Distinguished Professor
University of Maryland, School of Nursing

Dr. Lauren Charlotte Heathcote

Associate Professor
King’s College London