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The role of motivation in distracting attention away from pain: An experimental study

Verhoeven, Katriena,*; Crombez, Geerta; Eccleston, Christopherb; Van Ryckeghem, Dimitri M.L.a; Morley, Stephenc; Van Damme, Stefaana

doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.01.019

Research on the effectiveness of distraction as a method of pain control is inconclusive. One mechanism pertains to the motivational relevance of distraction tasks. In this study the motivation to engage in a distraction task during pain was experimentally manipulated. Undergraduate students (N = 73) participated in a cold pressor test (CPT) and were randomly assigned to three groups: a distraction-only group performed a tone-detection task during the CPT, a motivated-distraction group performed the same task and received a monetary reward for good task performance, and a control group did not perform the tone-detection task. Results indicated that engagement in the distraction task was better in the motivated-distraction group in comparison with the distraction-only group. Participants in both distraction groups experienced less pain compared to the control group. There were no overall differences in pain intensity between the two distraction groups. The effect of distraction was influenced by the level of catastrophic thinking about pain. For low catastrophizers, both distraction groups reported less pain as compared to the non-distracted control group. This was not the case for high catastrophizers. For high catastrophizers it mattered whether the distraction task was motivationally relevant: high catastrophizers reported less intense pain in the motivated-distraction group, as compared to the non-distracted control group. We conclude that increasing the motivational relevance of the distraction task may increase the effects of distraction, especially for those who catastrophize about pain.

aDepartment of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Belgium

bCentre of Pain Research, The University of Bath, UK

cLeeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, UK

*Corresponding author. Address: Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium. Tel.: +32 9 264 91 06; fax: +32 9 264 64 89.


Submitted May 14, 2009; revised December 23, 2009; accepted January 26, 2010.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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