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Biol Psychol. 2012 Jul;90(3):242-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2012.03.019. Epub 2012 Apr 4.

Tonic pain grabs attention, but leaves the processing of facial expressions intact-evidence from event-related brain potentials.

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Department of Psychology, University of Würzburg, Germany.


Emotion and attention are key players in the modulation of pain perception. However, much less is known about the reverse influence of pain on attentional and especially emotional processes. To this end, we employed painful vs. non-painful pressure stimulation to examine effects on the processing of simultaneously presented facial expressions (fearful, neutral, happy). Continuous EEG was recorded and participants had to rate each facial expression with regard to valence and arousal. Painful stimulation attenuated visual processing in general, as reduced P100 and late positive potential (LPP) amplitudes revealed, but did not interfere with structural encoding of faces (N170). In addition, early perceptual discrimination and sustained preferential processing of emotional facial expressions as well as affective ratings were not influenced by pain. Thus, tonic pain demonstrates strong attention-demanding properties, but this does not interfere with concurrently ongoing emotion discrimination processes. These effects point at partially independent effects of pain on emotion and attention, respectively.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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