Mohsen Dehghani, Louise Sharpe, Michael K. Nicholas

Cognitive-behavioural models of chronic pain contend that appraisals of harm affect the individual’s response to pain. It has been suggested that fear of pain and/or anxiety sensitivity predispose individuals to chronicity. According to this view, pain is maintained through hypervigilance towards painful sensations and subsequent avoidance. The present study investigates the nature of cognitive biases in chronic pain patients. A sample of 169 consecutive patients referred to a specialist pain management centre participated in the study. Questionnaires measuring different aspects of pain and a computerised version of the Dot-Probe Task were administered. Four types of words related to different dimensions of pain and matched, neutral words were used as stimuli. Reaction times in response to the stimuli were recorded. A factorial design 3 * 4 * 2 * 2 and ANOVAs were employed to analyse the data. Chronic pain patients showed a cognitive bias to sensory pain words relative to affective, disability, and threat-related words. However, contrary to expectations, those high in fear of pain responded more slowly to stimuli than those less fearful of pain. These results suggest that patients with chronic pain problems selectively attend to sensory aspects of pain. However, selective attention appears to depend upon the nature of pain stimuli. For those who are highly fearful of pain they may not only selectively attend to pain-related information but have difficulty disengaging from that stimuli. Theoretical and clinical implications of the data are discussed.
Keywords: Chronic pain; Selective attention; Cognitive biases; Fear of pain

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Selective attention to pain-related information in chronic musculoskeletal pain patients

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