Science that makes you itchy just thinking about it.

By Seriously Science | March 25, 2014 6:00 am

225314166_d99927da20Mosquito bites. Woolen pants. Ants crawling under your clothes. Chicken pox. Dry skin. Feel it yet? This study set out to empirically test whether thinking about itching makes one feel more itchy. To test this “nocebo” effect — similar to the placebo effect but resulting in a negative response — the researchers trained participants to expect to feel more or less itchy by exposing them to higher or lower levels of electrode-induced itch while telling them about it, and showing them corresponding lights. The control patients either had the same experience but without the lights and verbal information, or were given the information, but the amount of itch received did not correspond to the information. The result? The participants with more information did feel itchier. And now, so do I. Thanks, science!

Role of Conditioning and Verbal Suggestion in Placebo and Nocebo Effects on Itch

“Placebo and nocebo effects are known to play a key role in treatment effects in a wide variety of conditions. These effects have frequently been investigated with regard to pain and also in other physical sensations, but have hardly been investigated with regard to itch. In addition, neither in pain nor in any other physical sensation, the single and combined contribution of the expectancy mechanisms of conditioning and verbal suggestion have ever been investigated in both placebo and nocebo effects within one design. For the first time, the role of verbal suggestion and conditioning in placebo and nocebo effects on itch was experimentally investigated. Expectations about itch stimuli were induced in healthy subjects by verbal suggestion, conditioning, or a combination of both procedures, and compared with a control group without expectation induction. Itch was induced electrically by means of quantitative sensory testing. Significant placebo and nocebo effects were induced in the group in which combined procedures of conditioning and verbal suggestion were applied in comparison with the control group. The conditioning and verbal suggestion procedures applied individually did not induce significant placebo and nocebo effects when compared with the control group. The results of this study extend existing evidence on different physical sensations, like pain, by showing that also for itch, the combination of conditioning and verbal suggestion is most promising in inducing both placebo and nocebo effects. More research on placebo and nocebo effects at a perceptive and neurobiological level is warranted to further elucidate the common and specific mechanisms underlying placebo and nocebo effects on itch and other physical sensations.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: What the f**k is a “placebo bra”?
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NCBI ROFL: Allergy to human seminal fluid: cross-reactivity with dog dander.

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Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
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