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Nonpain goal pursuit inhibits attentional bias to pain

Schrooten, Martien G.S.a,b,*; Van Damme, Stefaanc; Crombez, Geertc; Peters, Madelon L.a; Vogt, Juliac; Vlaeyen, Johan W.S.a,b

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doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2012.01.025
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Summary Attentional bias to signals of impending pain is inhibited when one is simultaneously engaged in the pursuit of a salient but nonpain task goal.

ABSTRACT Although dealing with pain is a vital goal to pursue, most individuals are also engaged in the pursuit of other goals. The aim of the present experiment was to investigate whether attentional bias to pain signals is inhibited when one is pursuing a concurrent salient but nonpain task goal. Attentional bias to pain signals was measured in pain-free volunteers (n = 63) using a spatial cueing task with pain cues and neutral cues. The pursuit of a concurrent goal was manipulated by including additional trials in which a digit appeared at the middle of the screen. Half of the participants (goal group) were instructed to name these additional stimuli aloud. In order to increase the affective-motivational value of this non-pain-related goal, monetary reward and punishment were made contingent upon the performance of this task. Participants of the control group did not perform the additional task. As predicted, the results show attentional bias to pain signals in the control group, but not in the goal group. This indicates that attentional bias to signals of impending pain is inhibited when one is engaged in the pursuit of another salient but nonpain goal. The results of this study underscore a motivational view on attention to pain, in which the pursuit of multiple goals, including nonpain goals, is taken into account.

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

aDepartment of Clinical Psychological Science, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

bDepartment of Psychology, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

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

*Corresponding author. Address: Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Maastricht University, P.O. Box 616, Maastricht, MD 6200, The Netherlands. Tel.: +31 43 388 1484; fax: +31 43 388 4155.

E-mail address:martien.schrooten@maastrichtuniversity.nl

Article history: Received 7 November 2011; Received in revised form 14 January 2012; Accepted 26 January 2012.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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