Boundary effects of expectation in human pain perception

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Perception of sensory stimulation is influenced by numerous psychological variables. One example is placebo analgesia, where expecting low pain causes a painful stimulus to feel less painful. Yet, because pain evolved to signal threats to survival, it should be maladaptive for highly-erroneous expectations to yield unrealistic pain experiences. Therefore, we hypothesised that a cue followed by a highly discrepant stimulus intensity, which generates a large prediction error, will have a weaker influence on the perception of that stimulus. To test this hypothesis we collected two independent pain-cueing datasets. The second dataset and the analysis plan were preregistered ( Regression modelling revealed that reported pain intensities were best explained by a quartic polynomial model of the prediction error. The results indicated that the influence of cues on perceived pain decreased when stimulus intensity was very different from expectations, suggesting that prediction error size has an immediate functional role in pain perception.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9443
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date1 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


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