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Keeping pain in mind: a motivational account of attention to pain

Van Damme, S., Legrain, V., Vogt, J. and Crombez, G. (2010) Keeping pain in mind: a motivational account of attention to pain. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34 (2). pp. 204-213. ISSN 0149-7634

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.01.005


Attention is a key concept in many theories of pain perception. A clinically popular idea is that pain is more intense in persons who are hypervigilant for or bias their attention to pain information. So far, evidence for such bias in pain patients as compared to healthy persons is inconclusive. Furthermore, studies investigating the effects of distracting attention away from pain have shown contradictory results. In this review, we present a motivational perspective on attentional processing of pain that accounts for these inconclusive research findings. We argue that pain always has to be considered within a context of goal pursuit. From this perspective, two largely unexplored theoretical assumptions are introduced. First, when pain occurs during the pursuit of a certain goal, it may unintentionally capture attention although it is not relevant for the goal. Whether such unintentional attentional capture happens is not only dependent upon the characteristics of the pain but also on the characteristics of the focal goal. Second, attention to pain and pain-related information might be driven by a focal goal related to pain. Attentional processing of pain information will be particularly enhanced when the focal goal is related to pain management (e.g., attempting to gain control). Future research should systematically investigate the role of motivation and goal pursuit in the attentional processing of pain-related information. This motivational perspective offers a powerful framework to explain inter- and intraindividual differences in the deployment of attention to pain-related information.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:68427


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