Tor Wager

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Tor D. Wager
EducationUniversity of Michigan (PhD, 2003)
Scientific career
FieldsCognitive psychology
InstitutionsDartmouth College
ThesisBrain and behavioral mechanisms of switching attention (2003)

Tor D. Wager is the Diana L. Taylor Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience at Dartmouth College, as well as the director of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at this university.[1] He is known for his research into the placebo effect[2] and into the way the brain processes pain.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Wager was raised in Christian Science in Colorado.[2] He received his PhD in 2003 from the University of Michigan in cognitive psychology, with a focus on cognitive neuroscience.[4] As a graduate student there, he spent some time researching brain changes in response to emotions using imaging techniques. Although Wager found the work fascinating, he later decided to study placebos because he wanted to research something that could help patients. He is most recently on the faculty at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. [2]

Academic career[edit]

Wager became an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University in 2004. In 2010, he became a faculty member at the University of Colorado Boulder.[4]


In 2004, while a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Wager conducted a study which found that people who reported the most relief in pain after receiving a placebo also showed the most reduction in activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, thalamus, and insula, all of which are brain regions that respond to physical pain.[5][6] In 2013, Wager published a study which found that it is possible to detect physical pain, as well as measure how intense the pain was, using an fMRI scan.[7][8] A 2015 study led by Wager exposed patients to pain in the form of increasing heat, and then asked them to "rethink" their pain. Wager et al. found that when the patients did so, they were able to alter the amount of pain they felt and certain brain structures linking the nucleus accumbens and ventromedial prefrontal cortex were activated.[9][10]

Wager's research has also found that administering placebos to patients and telling them that the pills were pain medicine leads to their brains releasing opioids,[11][12] which he has described as "the brain's own morphine."[13] His studies have also found that placebo administration is associated with increased activity in the frontal cortex of the brain.[14]


  1. ^ "People of CANLab". CANLAB. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Vance, Erik (22 June 2010). "Seeking to Illuminate the Mysterious Placebo Effect". New York Times. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  3. ^ Snyder, Laura (1 September 2013). "Painstaking Discovery". Coloradan Magazine. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Tor Wager". University of Colorado. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  5. ^ Wager, T. D. (20 February 2004). "Placebo-Induced Changes in fMRI in the Anticipation and Experience of Pain". Science. 303 (5661): 1162–1167. CiteSeerX doi:10.1126/science.1093065. PMID 14976306.
  6. ^ Vance, Erik (7 July 2014). "Power of the Placebo". Discover Magazine. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  7. ^ Wager, Tor D.; Atlas, Lauren Y.; Lindquist, Martin A.; Roy, Mathieu; Woo, Choong-Wan; Kross, Ethan (11 April 2013). "An fMRI-Based Neurologic Signature of Physical Pain". New England Journal of Medicine. 368 (15): 1388–1397. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1204471. PMC 3691100. PMID 23574118.
  8. ^ Marchione, Marilynn (10 April 2013). "Study: Brain scans can measure pain". USA Today. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  9. ^ Woo, Choong-Wan; Roy, Mathieu; Buhle, Jason T.; Wager, Tor D.; Posner, Michael (6 January 2015). "Distinct Brain Systems Mediate the Effects of Nociceptive Input and Self-Regulation on Pain". PLoS Biology. 13 (1): e1002036. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002036. PMC 4285399. PMID 25562688.
  10. ^ Hamzelou, Jessica (14 January 2015). "Brain signature of emotion-linked pain is uncovered". New Scientist. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  11. ^ Wager, T. D.; Scott, D. J.; Zubieta, J.-K. (19 June 2007). "Placebo effects on human mu-opioid activity during pain". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104 (26): 11056–11061. doi:10.1073/pnas.0702413104. PMC 1894566. PMID 17578917.
  12. ^ James, Susan Donaldson (1 August 2007). "People Need Both Drugs and Faith to Get Rid of Pain". ABC News. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  13. ^ Bootle, Olly (16 February 2014). "The medicine in our minds". BBC. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  14. ^ Haederle, Michael (30 November 2009). "The Chemical Contrails of the Placebo". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 25 January 2015.

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