BACKGROUND: Cognitive processes like attentional and interpretation biases have been suggested to play a vital role in the onset and exacerbation of chronic pain. Research consistently supports the occurrence of interpretation bias (IB) in pain patients and healthy individuals high in pain anxiety. Nevertheless, studies on the indirect assessment of IB or the relation between IB and responses to pain are limited. The present studies examined the association between indirect assessed IB and pain anxiety, while Study 2 additionally examined IB as a mediator in the relation between pain anxiety and pain responses.
METHOD: In Study 1 (N = 125) and Study 2 (N = 73), anxiety sensitivity, injury/illness sensitivity (IS) and pain catastrophizing were assessed with questionnaires. IB was indirectly derived from performance on an ambiguous word priming task. In Study 2, an experimental heat pain induction was used to assess pain responses (i.e. tolerance and subjective pain experience).
RESULTS: Results showed a positive correlation between pain anxiety and IB, albeit that the strength of the observed associations differed between both studies. Furthermore, IB was inversely related to pain tolerance, and found to mediate the relation between IS and pain tolerance in Study 2.
CONCLUSIONS: Current findings underscore the importance of interpretational processes in the context of physical health threat. Furthermore, the ambiguous word priming task is proposed as a suitable paradigm for further research on the indirect assessment of IB. Nevertheless, further research is warranted to deepen our understanding of IB and its contribution to the experience of (chronic) pain.