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Perceived intensity and unpleasantness of cutaneous and auditory stimuli: An evaluation of the generalized hypervigilance hypothesis

Hollins, Marka,b,*; Harper, Daniela; Gallagher, Shannona; Owings, Eric W.a; Lim, Pei Fengb,c; Miller, Vanessab,c; Siddiqi, Muhammad Q.c; Maixner, Williamb,c

doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2008.10.003
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ABSTRACT According to the Generalized Hypervigilance Hypothesis (GHH) of McDermid et al. [15], the unpleasantness of sensory stimuli, rather than their modality, determines whether they will be perceptually amplified in hypervigilant persons. In a test of this idea, ratings of the intensity of sensations evoked by cutaneous and auditory stimuli were obtained from individuals with chronic myofascial pain (fibromyalgia, temporomandibular disorders), and from (less hypervigilant) healthy control participants. In each modality, the stimuli spanned a wide intensity range, with the weakest stimuli being affectively neutral and the strongest being distinctly unpleasant, as determined by unpleasantness ratings. The pain patients showed robust perceptual amplification of the cutaneous pressure stimuli, and modest amplification of the auditory stimuli. In both cases, perceptual amplification extended to even the lowest stimulus intensities, a result that is not consistent with the predictions of the GHH. An alternative formulation, the attentional gain control model of hypervigilance, is proposed, according to which those types of stimuli that are associated with pain are amplified because of the attention that is habitually directed toward them.

aDepartment of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

bDepartment of Endodontics, School of Dentistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

cCenter for Neurosensory Disorders, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

*Corresponding author. Address: Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA. Tel.: +1 919 962 2441; fax: +1 919 962 2537.

E-mail address:mhollins@email.unc.edu

ARTICLE INFO

Article history:

Received May 9, 2008

Received in revised form September 30, 2008

Accepted October 7, 2008.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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