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Pain. 2009 Feb;141(3):215-21. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2008.10.003. Epub 2009 Jan 1.

Perceived intensity and unpleasantness of cutaneous and auditory stimuli: an evaluation of the generalized hypervigilance hypothesis.

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Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


According to the Generalized Hypervigilance Hypothesis (GHH) of McDermid et al., the unpleasantness of sensory stimuli, rather than their modality, determines whether they will be perceptually amplified in hypervigilant persons. In a test of this idea, ratings of the intensity of sensations evoked by cutaneous and auditory stimuli were obtained from individuals with chronic myofascial pain (fibromyalgia, temporomandibular disorders), and from (less hypervigilant) healthy control participants. In each modality, the stimuli spanned a wide intensity range, with the weakest stimuli being affectively neutral and the strongest being distinctly unpleasant, as determined by unpleasantness ratings. The pain patients showed robust perceptual amplification of the cutaneous pressure stimuli, and modest amplification of the auditory stimuli. In both cases, perceptual amplification extended to even the lowest stimulus intensities, a result that is not consistent with the predictions of the GHH. An alternative formulation, the attentional gain control model of hypervigilance, is proposed, according to which those types of stimuli that are associated with pain are amplified because of the attention that is habitually directed toward them.

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