Can contagious itch be affected by positive and negative suggestions?


Contagious itch can be evoked by observing people scratching. Verbal suggestions about to-be-received itch can influence itch intensity, as shown by placebo research, but it is unknown whether this extends to contagious itch. The current study aimed to replicate prior findings that listening to scratching and rubbing sounds elicits contagious itch, and to investigate whether suggestions can modulate this process. Healthy participants (n = 140) received positive or negative suggestions about itch in response to the sounds (aimed to decrease or increase expected itch, respectively), or no specific suggestions as a control. Participants listened to a number of audio fragments with scratching and rubbing sounds. The amount of expected itch as well as itch sensation after each audio fragment were measured by self-report. Suggestions had no effect on the expected itch. Both rubbing and scratching sounds significantly elicited itch in all groups. Scratching sounds induced more itch than rubbing sounds exclusively in the control group. These findings indicate that short suggestions might be not effective enough to modify the expectations of people regarding contagious itch. Furthermore, suggestions modulate contagious itch to some degree, but not in the hypothesized direction. Potential similarities and differences in the neurobiological mechanisms of contagious itch and nocebo effects are discussed.

Experimental Dermatology
Aleksandrina Skvortsova
Aleksandrina Skvortsova
Assistant Professor