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Termination of a painful or unpleasant event can be rewarding. However, whether the brain treats relief in a similar way as it treats natural reward is unclear, and the neural processes that underlie its representation as a motivational goal remain poorly understood. We used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to investigate how humans learn to generate expectations of pain relief. Using a pavlovian conditioning procedure, we show that subjects experiencing prolonged experimentally induced pain can be conditioned to predict pain relief. This proceeds in a manner consistent with contemporary reward-learning theory (average reward/loss reinforcement learning), reflected by neural activity in the amygdala and midbrain. Furthermore, these reward-like learning signals are mirrored by opposite aversion-like signals in lateral orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. This dual coding has parallels to 'opponent process' theories in psychology and promotes a formal account of prediction and expectation during pain.

Original publication

DOI

10.1038/nn1527

Type

Journal article

Journal

Nat Neurosci

Publication Date

09/2005

Volume

8

Pages

1234 - 1240

Keywords

Avoidance Learning, Behavior Therapy, Brain, Capsaicin, Conditioning, Psychological, Female, Functional Laterality, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Models, Biological, Oxygen, Pain, Pain Management, Pain Measurement, Reward, Statistics, Nonparametric, Time Factors