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Can contagious itch be affected by positive and negative suggestions?

Meeuwis, Stefanie H.; Skvortsova, Aleksandrina; van Laarhoven, Antoinette I. M.; Holle, Henning; Evers, Andrea W.M.


Stefanie H. Meeuwis

Aleksandrina Skvortsova

Antoinette I. M. van Laarhoven

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Dr Henning Holle
Reader in Psychology / Leader of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience group (

Andrea W.M. Evers


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.


Meeuwis, S. H., Skvortsova, A., van Laarhoven, A. I. M., Holle, H., & Evers, A. W. (in press). Can contagious itch be affected by positive and negative suggestions?. Experimental Dermatology,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 10, 2022
Online Publication Date Aug 22, 2022
Deposit Date Aug 26, 2022
Publicly Available Date Sep 2, 2022
Journal Experimental Dermatology
Print ISSN 0906-6705
Electronic ISSN 1600-0625
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Contagious itch; Expectancy; Itch; Nocebo effects; Placebo effects
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Copyright Statement
© 2022 The Authors. Experimental Dermatology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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