Katja Wiech

Katja Wiech
Professor of Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Neurobiology of beliefs and placebo effects
Research into placebo effects has shown that treatment success is critically determined by the beliefs we hold. These beliefs can relate to the disease we seek treatment for (e.g., progression, treatability) and the treatment itself (e.g., tolerability, potency). Although the influence of beliefs has extensively been described for various health conditions, we still know little about their formation, maintenance and revision and the neural basis of their impact on treatment outcome. Studies combining brain imaging with computational modelling have begun to explore these processes in more detail. In my presentation, I will give an overview on our current understanding of the neurobiological basis of beliefs and their role in placebo effects. In particular, I will focus on how beliefs as a cognitive process interface with physical symptoms and how they are incorporated into the perceptual process. Furthermore, I will discuss how these insights could be used to challenge and revise maladaptive beliefs and how a therapeutic contact could be used to foster helpful expectations.

Biosketch
Katja Wiech studied Psychology at the Universities of Kiel and Düsseldorf (Germany) and completed her PhD on neurobiological processes underlying phantom limb pain in Tübingen (Germany) under the supervision of Prof. Niels Birbaumer. In 2003 she joined the group of Prof. Ray Dolan at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging in London (UK) to investigate neural mechanisms of psychological pain modulation using functional magnetic resonance imaging. In 2005, she became a member of the Pain Imaging Neuroscience Group at the University of Oxford (headed by Prof. Irene Tracey) where she established her own group (“pain & mind”) in 2014.
Katja’s work focuses on the influence of beliefs on the perception and neural processing of pain. Using a multi-methods approach, her research aims to characterize the processes that integrate beliefs with incoming sensory information and the failure of optimal integration in biased perception.

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