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The anticipation of pain modulates spatial attention: evidence for pain-specificity in high-pain catastrophizers

Van Damme, Stefaana,*; Crombez, Geerta; Eccleston, Christopherb

doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2004.07.022

Recent studies have suggested that the anticipation of pain may modulate spatial attention. However, it is possible that this modulation reflects a general effect of anticipating somatosensory stimulation, without being pain-specific. In the present study, we therefore compared the effect of the anticipation of somatosensory stimulation on spatial attention between two groups, using conditioned signals in a spatial cueing paradigm. In the pain group, signals predicted painful electrocutaneous stimulation, whereas in the control group, signals predicted non-painful vibrotactile stimulation. Tests between both groups showed that attentional engagement was equally facilitated by the anticipation of somatosensory stimulation in both groups. Interestingly, disengagement of attention was more retarded by the anticipation of pain than by the anticipation of non-painful vibrotactile stimulation in participants high in catastrophic thinking about pain. Theoretical and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

aDepartment of Experimental, Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

bUniversity of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK

*Corresponding author. Tel.: +32–9–2649–105; fax: +32–9–2649–149.


Submitted May 4, 2004; revised July 7, 2004; accepted July 19, 2004.

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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