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Interaction between stimulus intensity and perceptual load in the attentional control of pain

Romero, Yadira Roaa; Straube, Thomasa,b,*; Nitsch, Alexandera; Miltner, Wolfgang H.R.a; Weiss, Thomasa

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doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2012.10.003

Summary Intensity of nociceptive stimuli and perceptual load of a concomitant visual task interact. Pain ratings and task performance (reaction times) changed interdependently.

The interaction between intensity of nociceptive stimuli and cognitive load in a concomitant task is still a challenging and complex topic. Here, we investigated the interaction between top-down factors (i.e., perceptual load), induced by a visual task, and bottom-up factors (i.e., intensity of nociceptive stimuli that implicitly modifies saliency of input). Using a new experimental paradigm, in which perceptual load is varied while laser heat stimuli of different intensities are processed; we show a significant interaction between intensity of nociceptive stimuli and perceptual load on both pain ratings and task performance. High perceptual load specifically reduced intensity ratings of high intensity stimuli. However, under this condition, task performance was impaired, regardless of interindividual differences in motivation and pain catastrophizing. Thus, we showed that pain ratings can be reduced by increasing the load of attentional resources at the perceptual level of a non–pain-related task. Nevertheless, the disruptive effect of highly intensive nociceptive stimuli on the performance of the perceptual task was evident only under high load.

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

aDepartment of Biological and Clinical Psychology, Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, Germany

bDepartment of Medical Psychology, Medical Faculty, Westf. Wilhelms University Munster, Munster, Germany

*Corresponding author. Address: Department of Medical Psychology, Medical Faculty, Westf. Wilhelms University Munster, Von-Esmarch Street 52, D-48149 Munster, Germany. Tel.: +49 251 8355493; fax: +49 251 8355494 (T. Straube).


Article history: Received 9 August 2011; Received in revised form 16 August 2012; Accepted 2 October 2012.

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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