This paper reports an experimental investigation of attentional engagement to and disengagement from pain. Thirty-seven pain-free volunteers performed a cueing task in which they were instructed to respond to visual target stimuli, i.e. the words ‘pain’ and ‘tone’. Targets were preceded by pain stimuli or tone stimuli as cues. Participants were characterized as high or low pain catastrophizers, using self-reports. We found that the effect of cueing upon target detection was differential for high and low pain catastrophizers. Analyses revealed a similar amount of attentional engagement to pain in both groups. However, we also found that participants high in pain catastrophizing had difficulty disengaging from pain, whereas participants low in pain catastrophizing showed no retarded disengagement from pain. Our results provide further evidence that catastrophic thinking enhances the attentional demand of pain, particularly resulting in difficulty disengaging from pain. The clinical implications of these findings are discussed.
aDepartment of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
bDepartment of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, UK
cResearch Institute for Psychology and Health, Utrecht, The Netherlands
∗Corresponding author. Address: Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. Tel.: +32–9–2649105; fax: +32–9–2649149
Submitted July 15, 2003; revised September 17, 2003; accepted September 25, 2003.