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Acupuncture for preconditioning of expectancy and/or Pavlovian extinction
  1. Thomas Lundeberg, director1,
  2. Irene Lund, lecturer2
  1. 1
    Foundation for Acupuncture and Alternative Biological Treatment Methods, Sabbatsbergs Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2
    Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Thomas Lundeberg, thomas.lundeberg{at}


Both specific and non-specific factors, as well as the therapist, may play a role in acupuncture therapy. Recent results suggest that verum acupuncture has specific physiological effects and that patients’ expectations and belief regarding a potentially beneficial treatment modulate activity in the reward and ‘self-appraisal’ systems in the brain. We suggest that acupuncture treatment may partly be regarded and used as an intervention that preconditions expectancy, which results in both ‘conditional reflexes’ and conditioning of expected ‘reward’ and ‘self-appraisal’. If so, acupuncture should preferably be applied before the start of the ‘specific’ treatment (drug or behavioural intervention which is given with the intention of achieving a specific outcome) to enhance the specific and non-specific effects. This hypothesis is further supported by the suggestions that acupuncture may be viewed as a ‘neural’ stimulus that triggers Pavlovian ‘extinction’. If this is the case, acupuncture should preferably be applied repeatedly (ie in a learning process) before the start of the ‘specific’ treatment to initiate the extinction of previous unpleasant associations like pain or anxiety.

Our clinical data suggest that acupuncture may precondition expectancy and conditional reflexes as well as induce Pavlovian ‘extinction’. Based on the above we suggest that acupuncture should be tried (as an adjunct) before any ‘specific’ therapy.

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