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The anticipation of pain at a specific location of the body prioritizes tactile stimuli at that location

Bulcke, Charlotte Vanden*; Van Damme, Stefaan; Durnez, Wouter; Crombez, Geert

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doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.05.009
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This study shows that the anticipation of pain at a particular location of the body prioritizes somatosensory sensations at that particular location of the body.

This study investigated whether one becomes more quickly aware of innocuous somatosensory signals at locations of the body where pain is anticipated. Undergraduate students (N = 20) indicated which of 2 stimuli that were administered to each hand using a range of stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs), was presented first. Participants were instructed that the color of a cue (1 of 2 colors) signaled the possible occurrence of pain on 1 hand (threat trials). The other color of the cue signaled that no pain would follow (control trials). Results showed that during threat trials tactile stimuli on the hand where pain was expected, were perceived earlier in time than stimuli on the “neutral” hand. These findings demonstrate that the anticipation of pain at a particular location of the body resulted in the prioritization in time of somatosensory sensations at that location, indicating biased attention towards the threatened body part. The value of this study for investigating hypervigilance for somatosensory signals in clinical populations such as patients with chronic lower back pain is discussed.

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

Department of Experimental–Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Belgium

*Corresponding author. Address: Ghent University, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Department of Experimental–Clinical and Health Psychology, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. Tel.: +32 0 9 264 86 11; fax: +32 0 9 264 64 89.

E-mail address: Charlotte.VandenBulcke@UGent.be

Submitted November 19, 2012; revised April 11, 2013; accepted May 6, 2013.

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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