Reward Enhances Pain Discrimination in Humans
Becker S., Löffler M., Seymour B.
© The Author(s) 2020. The notion that reward inhibits pain is a well-supported observation in both humans and animals, allowing suppression of pain reflexes to acquired rewarding stimuli. However, a blanket inhibition of pain by reward would also impair pain discrimination. In contrast, early counterconditioning experiments implied that reward might actually spare pain discrimination. To test this hypothesis, we investigated whether discriminative performance was enhanced or inhibited by reward. We found in adult human volunteers (N = 25) that pain-based discriminative ability is actually enhanced by reward, especially when reward is directly contingent on discriminative performance. Drift-diffusion modeling shows that this relates to an augmentation of the underlying sensory signal strength and is not merely an effect of decision bias. This enhancement of sensory-discriminative pain-information processing suggests that whereas reward can promote reward-acquiring behavior by inhibition of pain in some circumstances, it can also facilitate important discriminative information of the sensory input when necessary.