Direct Verbal Suggestibility as a Predictor of Placebo Hypoalgesia Responsiveness

Ryan D. Parsons, Sofia Bergmann, Katja Wiech, Devin B. Terhune

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OBJECTIVE: Reliably identifying good placebo responders has pronounced implications for basic research on, and clinical applications of, the placebo response. Multiple studies point to direct verbal suggestibility as a potentially valuable predictor of individual differences in placebo responsiveness, but previous research has produced conflicting results on this association. METHODS: In two double-blind studies, we examined whether behavioral direct verbal suggestibility measures involving a correction for compliance would be associated with individual differences in responsiveness to conditioned and unconditioned placebo hypoalgesia using an established placebo analgesia paradigm. In study 1 (n = 57; mean [standard deviation] age = 23.7 [8.1] years; 77% women), we used behavioral hypnotic suggestibility as a predictor of placebo hypoalgesia induced through conditioning and verbal suggestion, whereas in study 2 (n = 78; mean [standard deviation] = 26.1 [7.4] years; 65% women), we measured nonhypnotic suggestibility and placebo hypoalgesia induced through verbal suggestion without conditioning. RESULTS: In study 1, the placebo hypoalgesia procedure yielded a moderate placebo response (g = 0.63 [95% confidence interval = 0.32 to 0.97]), but the response magnitude did not significantly correlate with hypnotic suggestibility (rs = 0.11 [-0.17 to 0.37]). In study 2, the placebo procedure did not yield a significant placebo response across the full sample (g = 0.11 [-0.11 to 0.33]), but the magnitude of individual placebo responsiveness significantly correlated with nonhypnotic suggestibility (rs = 0.27 [0.03 to 0.48]). CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that the extent to which direct verbal suggestibility captures variability in placebo responsiveness depends on the use of conditioning and highlights the utility of suggestibility as a potential contributing factor to placebo responding when placebo hypoalgesia is induced through verbal suggestions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1041-1049
Number of pages9
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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