Moisturising cream – read the label

Here is a cool study from Oxford University – they led participants to believe that they were applying either a ‘rich moisturising cream’ or a ‘basic cream’ to their forearm and asked them to rate how it felt – pleasantness and richness etc. They also scanned their brains.

The team reports that

These new findings thus show that cognitive modulation influences affective representations of touch and/or the sight of touch in a pregenual/orbitofrontal cortex system in which another somatosensory stimulus, oral texture, is represented [1]; in which correlations with pleasantness ratings are found [2,3,4]; and in which pleasant touch produces activation [5].

Of course, one always has to be careful not to interpret brain imaging findings as a neophrenologist might and conclude that the pregenual/orbitofrontal system actually holds ‘pleasantness’, which would imply that if we took it out of the brain it could somehow produce pleasantness by itself.  I reckon we can be confident with this fMRI data to conclude that the participants were not lying – that what they thought they were getting modulated how it felt.  This reminds me of a study using expensive vs cheap wine…..

If you are interested in these things – check out Charles Spence’s stuff – including the work for which he won the Ignoble Prize.

And here’s the link to the study:
McCabe C, Rolls ET, Bilderbeck, A and McGlone F (2008) Cognitive influences on the affective representation of touch and the sight of touch in the human brain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2008 3(2):97-108


  1. de Araujo IET, Rolls ET (2004) The representation in the human brain of food texture and oral fat. Journal of Neuroscience  24:3086–93
  2. Kringelbach ML, O’Doherty J, Rolls ET, Andrews C. (2003) Activation of the human orbitofrontal cortex to a liquid food stimulus is correlated with its subjective pleasantness. Cerebral Cortex 13:1064–71.
  3. de Araujo IET, Rolls ET, Velazco MI, Margot C, Cayeux I. (2005) Cognitive modulation of olfactory processing. Neuron  46:671–9.
  4. McCabe C, Rolls ET. (2007) Umami: a delicious flavor formed by convergence of taste and olfactory pathways in the human brain. European Journal of Neuroscience 25:1855–64
  5. Rolls ET, O’Doherty J, Kringelbach ML, et al. (2003b) Representations of pleasant and painful touch in the human orbitofrontal and cingulate cortices. Cerebral Cortex 13:308–17.