Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


W.M. Keck Science Department

Second Department


Reader 1

Michael Spezio

Reader 2

Thomas Borowski

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2013 Annie Belanger


How is the brain capable of mediating pain relief via the mind alone? Placebo analgesia is just such a case, wherein an inert substance yields relief from a number of pain inducing stimuli. Scholars typically separate several factors thought to contribute to the placebo effect into psychological and neurobiological influences. Psychological mechanisms include expectation and conditioning of analgesic effects, while neurobiological mechanisms implicate the opioidergic descending pain system. The current paper proposes an integrative model in which the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), implicated in cognitive-affective modulation, receives goal-directed input (i.e., expected pain relief) from the prefrontal cortex. As the rACC processes the cognitive difference between expected and actual pain, it recruits a critical descending pain pathway by means of modulating the periaqueductal gray area (PAG). The PAG is a key relay station that connects to other endogenous subsystems of opioidergic pain relief. Whether the rACC and its connection to the PAG are necessary for the placebo effect is a question future research will have to address.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.