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Eur J Pain. 2018 Jan;22(1):181-190. doi: 10.1002/ejp.1114. Epub 2017 Sep 26.

Attentional control and the competition between nonpain goals and the threat of pain.

Author information

1
Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Maastricht University, MD, The Netherlands.
2
Department of Psychology, Utrecht University, TC, The Netherlands.
3
Center for Health and Medical Psychology (CHAMP), Örebro University, Sweden.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Fully understanding attention to pain requires taking into account the motivational context. Both pain- and (nonpain) goal-related information attracts attention. An intriguing question is which attentional bias prevails when pain- and goal-related information co-occurs? Reduced attentional bias towards pain- and goal-related information was predicted when the other competing information was presented simultaneously. Moreover, trait attentional control was predicted to be associated with stronger attentional bias towards goal-related information particularly in the presence of pain-related information.

METHODS:

Attentional competition between pain- and (nonpain) goal-related information was measured in ninety participants using a dot-probe task presenting two stimuli (pain-related, goal-related or neutral) simultaneously. Reaction time was the dependent variable. Dot-probe trials alternated with goal trials to induce a temporary goal. Trait attentional control was measured with the attentional control scale.

RESULTS:

For pain-related neutral stimulus pairs, participants responded fastest when probes appeared on the same, compared to the opposite, location as the pain-related stimulus. For pain-goal-related stimulus pairs, responses were fastest when probes appeared on the same, compared to the opposite, location as the goal-related stimulus. Higher trait attentional control was associated with faster responding when probes appeared on the same, compared to the opposite, location as the goal-related stimulus. Unpredicted, this effect was irrespective of the co-occurring stimulus (neutral vs. pain-related).

CONCLUSIONS:

The findings suggest that the unintentional allocation of attention towards events related to a temporary (nonpain) goal prevails over attentional bias to events predicting pain. Trait attentional control predicts stronger attentional allocation towards events related to a temporary goal.

SIGNIFICANCE:

These findings indicate that treatment interventions facilitating goal pursuit in patients with chronic pain are beneficial in reducing attentional biases towards pain-related events.

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PMID:
28949062
DOI:
10.1002/ejp.1114
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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