Ali Khatibi , Mohsen Dehghani , Louise Sharpe , Gordon J.G. Asmundson , Hamidreza Pouretemad
Evidence that patients with chronic pain selectively attend to pain-related stimuli presented in modified Stroop and dot-probe paradigms is mixed. The pain-related stimuli used in these studies have been primarily verbal in nature (i.e., words depicting themes of pain). The purpose of the present study was to determine whether patients with chronic pain, relative to healthy controls, show selective attention for pictures depicting painful faces. To do so, 170 patients with chronic pain and 40 age- and education- matched healthy control participants were tested using a dot-probe task in which painful, happy, and neutral facial expressions were presented. Selective attention was denoted using the mean reaction time and the bias index. Results indicated that, while both groups shifted attention away from happy faces (and towards neutral faces), only the control group shifted attention away from painful faces. Additional analyses were conducted on chronic pain participants after dividing them into groups on the basis of fear of pain/(re)injury. The results of these analyses revealed that while chronic pain patients with high and low levels of fear both shifted attention away from happy faces, those with low fear shifted attention away from painful faces, whereas those with high fear shifted attention towards painful faces. These results suggest that patients with chronic pain selectively attend to facial expressions of pain and, importantly, that the tendency to shift attention towards such stimuli is positively influenced by high fear of pain/(re)injury. Implications of the findings and future research directions are discussed.
Selective attention towards painful faces among chronic pain patients: Evidence from a modified version of the dot-probe