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Research groups

Katja Wiech

My research focuses on the influence of beliefs on the perception of pain. These beliefs can be related to various aspects – pain itself, one’s ability to cope with it or conditions that can influence the two. A prime example of this influence is placebo analgesia, i.e. pain reduction following sham treatment that is induced by the expectation of pain relief.

Although the influence of beliefs on pain has been known for a long time, surprisingly little is known about its underlying mechanisms in the brain. Insights into the neural basis of this influence could aid in exploiting this powerful mechanism in a systematic way to open up new avenues for the prevention and treatment of pain, but also for a wider range of chronic health conditions, for which pain can be seen as a prototype.

In my research I use a multi-methods approach combining different non-invasive neuroimaging techniques including functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with behavioral and autonomic measures. In previous studies I have shown that beliefs can engage powerful brain mechanisms that can aggravate as well as alleviate pain. At present, I aim to characterize the process that integrates beliefs with incoming sensory information and the failure of optimal integration in biased perception. With my background in Experimental and Clinical Psychology I seeks to translate my basic research into clinical pain to make the findings available to the prevention and treatment of chronic pain.