The specificity and time-course of attentional bias in chronic headache were investigated. Individuals with chronic headache, compared with healthy controls, were hypothesized to show significant attentional bias towards disorder-relevant headache-related images.
Individuals with chronic headache (n=37) and headache-free controls (n=38) completed a visual-probe task with headache-related, pain-related, health-threat, and general-threat pictorial stimuli, which were presented at 500 and 1250 ms exposure durations.
Individuals with chronic headache, compared with headache-free controls, demonstrated significant bias towards headache-related images presented for 1250 ms. Considering participant groups separately, the chronic headache group showed bias towards headache-related images at 500 and 1250 ms, and pain-related images at 500 ms. The control group showed bias towards general-threat images at 500 ms.
Individuals with chronic headache demonstrate attentional bias towards pain information, which is most prominently shown towards stimuli relevant to their specific disorder. Biases are also more pronounced at longer stimuli presentation times associated with maintained attention. Future research should investigate the clinical implications of attentional bias in chronic headache, and further explore the benefits of attentional bias modification upon patient functioning.