Attentional bias towards pain-related information moderates the positive relationship between 1) pain severity and disability and 2) pain severity and distractibility in chronic pain patients.
Theoretical accounts of chronic pain hypothesize that attentional bias towards pain-related information is a maintaining or exacerbating factor, fuelling further pain, disability, and distress. However, empirical research testing this idea is currently lacking. In the present study, we investigated whether attentional bias towards pain-related information predicts daily pain-related outcomes in a sample of chronic pain patients (n = 69; Mage = 49.64 years; 46 females). During an initial laboratory session, attentional bias to pain-related information was assessed using a modified spatial cueing task. In advance, patients completed a number of self-report measures assessing current pain intensity, current disability, and pain duration. Subsequently, daily pain outcomes (self-reported pain severity, disability, avoidance behaviour, and distractibility) were measured for 2 weeks by means of an electronic diary. Results indicated that, although an attentional bias towards pain-related information was associated with the current level of disability and pain severity, it had no additional value above control variables in predicting daily pain severity, avoidance, distractibility, and disability. Attentional bias towards pain-related information did, however, moderate the relationship between daily pain severity and both daily disability and distractibility, indicating that, particularly in those patients with a strong attentional bias, increases in pain were associated with increased disability and distractibility. The use of interventions that diminish attentional bias may therefore be helpful to reduce daily disability and the level of distraction from current tasks despite the presence of pain in chronic pain patients.
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Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Belgium
*Corresponding author. Address: Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, Ghent 9000, Belgium. Tel.: +32 0 9 2648611; fax: +32 0 9 264648912.
Submitted June 24, 2012; revised November 14, 2012; accepted December 12, 2012.