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Habituation and the interference of pain with task performance

Crombez, Geerta,*; Eccleston, Chrisb; Baeyens, Franka; Eelen, Paula

doi: 10.1016/S0304-3959(96)03304-0

Pain interrupts, distracts and is difficult to disengage from. In this experiment the attentional interference during pain is studied with a primary task paradigm. We were interested in the strength of attentional interference with repeated presentations of pain. Healthy volunteers (n=24) performed a tone discrimination task in the presence of two types of distractors (an electrical pain stimulus and a control stimulus) which they were instructed to ignore. On some trials, tone probes were presented immediately (250 ms) after distractor onset, further on (750 ms) during the distractor, and immediately (250 ms) after distractr offset. Habituation of the task interference during the early processing of both the pain and the control stimulus was observed. It was also found that the attentional interference during pain did not completely disappear with repeated presentations. Finally, results clearly showed a more prolonged processing time of the tones during pain trials than during control trials. These results are discussed in terms of cognitive theories of habituation.

aDepartment of Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium

bSchool of Social Sciences, University of Bath, Bath, UK

*Corresponding author. Tel.: +32 16 326014; fax: +32 16 326000; e-mail:

Received July 4, 1996; revised version received November 13, 1996; accepted December 3, 1996.

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.
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