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Attempts to control pain prioritize attention to signals of pain: an experimental study

Notebaert, L., Crombez, G., Vogt, J. ORCID:, De Houwer, J., Van Damme, S. and Theeuwes, J. (2011) Attempts to control pain prioritize attention to signals of pain: an experimental study. Pain, 152 (5). pp. 1068-1073. ISSN 0304-3959

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.01.020


Clinical evidence suggests that a persistent search for solutions for chronic pain may bring along costs at the cognitive, affective, and behavioral level. Specifically, attempts to control pain may fuel hypervigilance and prioritize attention towards pain-related information. This hypothesis was investigated in an experiment with 41 healthy volunteers. Prioritization of attention towards a signal for pain was measured using an adaptation of a visual search paradigm in which participants had to search for a target presented in a varying number of colored circles. One of these colors (Conditioned Stimulus) became a signal for pain (Unconditioned Stimulus: electrocutaneous stimulus at tolerance level) using a classical conditioning procedure. Intermixed with the visual search task, participants also performed another task. In the pain-control group, participants were informed that correct and fast responses on trials of this second task would result in an avoidance of the Unconditioned Stimulus. In the comparison group, performance on the second task was not instrumental in controlling pain. Results showed that in the pain-control group, attention was more prioritized towards the Conditioned Stimulus than in the comparison group. The theoretical and clinical implications of these results are discussed.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:33975
Uncontrolled Keywords:Pain, Attentional bias, Avoidance, Fear, Anxiety, Hypervigilance, Control

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