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Subjective utility moderates bidirectional effects of conflicting motivations on pain perception

Becker, S., Gandhi, W., Chen, Y. J. and Schweinhardt, P. (2017) Subjective utility moderates bidirectional effects of conflicting motivations on pain perception. Scientific Reports, 7 (1). 7790. ISSN 2045-2322

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-08454-4


Minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure are conflicting motivations when pain and reward co-occur. Decisions to prioritize reward consumption or pain avoidance are assumed to lead to pain inhibition or facilitation, respectively. Such decisions are a function of the subjective utility of the stimuli involved, i.e. the relative value assigned to the stimuli to compare the potential outcomes of a decision. To test perceptual pain modulation by varying degrees of motivational conflicts and the role of subjective utility, we implemented a task in which healthy volunteers had to decide between accepting a reward at the cost of receiving a nociceptive electrocutaneous stimulus or rejecting both. Subjective utility of the stimuli was assessed by a matching task between the stimuli. Accepting reward coupled to a nociceptive stimulus resulted in decreased perceived intensity, while rejecting the reward to avoid pain resulted in increased perceived intensity, but in both cases only if a high motivational conflict was present. Subjective utility of the stimuli involved moderated these bidirectional perceptual effects: the more a person valued money over pain, the more perceived intensity increased or decreased. These findings demonstrate pain modulation when pain and reward are simultaneously present and highlight the importance of subjective utility for such modulation.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN)
ID Code:72139
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group


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