Bayesian prediction of placebo analgesia in an instrumental learning model

Won Mo Jung, Ye Seul Lee, Christian Wallraven, Younbyoung Chae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Placebo analgesia can be primarily explained by the Pavlovian conditioning paradigm in which a passively applied cue becomes associated with less pain. In contrast, instrumental conditioning employs an active paradigm that might be more similar to clinical settings. In the present study, an instrumental conditioning paradigm involving a modified trust game in a simulated clinical situation was used to induce placebo analgesia. Additionally, Bayesian modeling was applied to predict the placebo responses of individuals based on their choices. Twenty-four participants engaged in a medical trust game in which decisions to receive treatment from either a doctor (more effective with high cost) or a pharmacy (less effective with low cost) were made after receiving a reference pain stimulus. In the conditioning session, the participants received lower levels of pain following both choices, while high pain stimuli were administered in the test session even after making the decision. The choice-dependent pain in the conditioning session was modulated in terms of both intensity and uncertainty. Participants reported significantly less pain when they chose the doctor or the pharmacy for treatment compared to the control trials. The predicted pain ratings based on Bayesian modeling showed significant correlations with the actual reports from participants for both of the choice categories. The instrumental conditioning paradigm allowed for the active choice of optional cues and was able to induce the placebo analgesia effect. Additionally, Bayesian modeling successfully predicted pain ratings in a simulated clinical situation that fits well with placebo analgesia induced by instrumental conditioning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0172609
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Feb

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
YC was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (grant number 2015R1D1A1A01058033; and the LG Yonam Foundation for Research Fellowship (grant number 2016; The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Jung et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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