Thursday, August 13, 2020

Placebos without deception reduce self-report and neural measures of emotional distress

Interesting work from Guevarra et al. (open source):
Several recent studies suggest that placebos administered without deception (i.e., non-deceptive placebos) can help people manage a variety of highly distressing clinical disorders and nonclinical impairments. However, whether non-deceptive placebos represent genuine psychobiological effects is unknown. Here we address this issue by demonstrating across two experiments that during a highly arousing negative picture viewing task, non-deceptive placebos reduce both a self-report and neural measure of emotional distress, the late positive potential. These results show that non-deceptive placebo effects are not merely a product of response bias. Additionally, they provide insight into the neural time course of non-deceptive placebo effects on emotional distress and the psychological mechanisms that explain how they function.
Here is a description from their text of the EEG signals measured:
The LPP is an electroencephalogram (EEG) derived event-related brain potential (ERP) response that measures millisecond changes in the neural activity involved in emotional processing. The early-time window of the LPP (400–1000 ms) indexes attention allocation34; the sustained time window (1000–6000 ms) indexes conscious appraisals and meaning-making mechanisms involved in emotion processing34,35 and is consistently downregulated by cognitive emotion regulation strategies. Consistent with its role in immediate attentional orienting responses to emotional stimuli and later appraisal processes, neural sources of the LPP include both the amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex41. Thus, the LPP is ideally suited to help examine the neural mechanisms and time course of non-deceptive placebo effects on emotional distress.
And, conditions presented to participants:
In both experiments, we randomly assigned participants to either a non-deceptive placebo group or a control group. Participants in the non-deceptive placebo group read about placebo effects and were then asked to inhale a nasal spray consisting of saline solution. They were told that the nasal spray was a placebo that contained no active ingredients, but would help reduce their negative emotional reactions to viewing distressing images if they believed it would. Participants in the control group read about the neural processes underlying the experience of pain and were also asked to inhale the same saline solution spray; however, they were told that the purpose of the nasal spray was to improve the clarity of the physiological readings we were recording in the study. The articles were matched for narrative structure, emotional content, and length

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