Motor action changes pain perception: a sensory attenuation paradigm in the context of pain

Eleana A Pinto*, Dimitri M.L. van Ryckeghem, Ann Meulders, Diana M Torta, Amber Claus, Stefaan Van Damme

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A large body of evidence indicates how pain affects motor control, yet the way the motor system influences pain perception remains unclear. We present 2 experiments that investigated sensory attenuation of pain implementing a 2-alternative forced choice paradigm. Particularly, healthy participants received painful stimuli on a moving and nonmoving hand during the execution or the preparation of reaching motor actions. At the end of each trial, they indicated on which hand they perceived the stimulus stronger. The point of subjective equality was obtained to measure sensory attenuation. The intensity (experiment 1) and the threat value (experiment 2) of the pain stimuli were manipulated between-subjects to examine their impact on sensory attenuation. Results of experiment 1 (N = 68) revealed that executing a motor action attenuates pain processing in the moving hand. Sensory attenuation during motor preparation alone occurred with stronger stimulus intensities. Sensory attenuation was not affected by the intensity of the pain stimuli. Results of experiment 2 (N = 79) replicated the phenomenon of sensory attenuation of pain during motor action execution. However, sensory attenuation was not affected by the threat value of pain. Together these findings indicate that executing, but not preparing, a motor action affects pain processing in that body part. No significant associations were found between sensory attenuation indices and inhibitory control abilities or pain catastrophizing, vigilance and rumination. These results provide insight into the inhibitory effects of motor actions on pain processing, suggesting that pain perception is a dynamic experience susceptible to individuals' actions in the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2060-2069
Number of pages10
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • Catastrophization
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Pain
  • Pain Perception

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