Pain has the capacity to interfere with daily tasks. Although task interference by pain is largely unintentional, it can be controlled to a certain extent. Such top-down control over pain has been believed to be reduced in patients with fibromyalgia (FM). In this study, we investigated task interference and distraction efficacy in patients with FM and a matched healthy control group. Forty-nine patients with FM and 49 healthy volunteers performed as quickly as possible (1) a visual localization task in the presence of nonpainful vibrating or painful electric somatic stimuli, and (2) a somatosensory localization task (using nonpainful or painful stimuli). Participants reported on their experience of the somatic stimuli on some of the trials during both localisation tasks. Results indicated that pain interferes with performance of the visual task, in both patients with FM and healthy individuals. Furthermore, participants experienced the pain stimulus as less intense when directing attention away from the pain than when focusing on the pain. Overall, task performance of patients with FM was slower compared with the task performance in the healthy control group. In contrast to our hypotheses, patients with FM and healthy volunteers did not differ in the magnitude of the interference effect and distraction efficacy. In conclusion, current study provides support for contemporary theories claiming that attention modulates the experience of pain and vice versa. However, no evidence was found for an altered attentional processing of pain in patients with FM. Furthermore, results indicate that task interference and distraction efficacy are not just 2 sides of the same coin.
Overall, slowed task performance in patients with fibromyalgia, but no difference in the magnitude of task interference by pain and distraction efficacy compared with healthy individuals.
aInstitute for Health and Behaviour, INSIDE, University of Luxembourg, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg
bDepartment of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
cCentre for Pain Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom
Corresponding author. Address: Maison des Sciences Humaines, Université du Luxembourg, Porte des Sciences 11, L-4366 Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg. Tel.: +35 (0) 4666449241. E-mail address: Dimitri.VanRyckeghem@uni.lu (D.M.L. Van Ryckeghem).
Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.
Received November 22, 2017
Received in revised form February 13, 2018
Accepted February 22, 2018