Pain catastrophizing, but not injury/illness sensitivity or anxiety sensitivity, enhances attentional interference by pain

L.M.G. Vancleef*, M.L. Peters

*Corresponding author for this work

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Pain draws on attentional resources, thereby disturbing the pursuit of ongoing activities. Several studies have made use of the primary task paradigm to study the disruptive function of pain on attention. In this paradigm, participants perform an attentionally demanding task, while they are occasionally distracted by mild electrical stimulation. Deterioration in task performance (in terms of speed and accuracy) is then taken as an index of attentional interference. One major finding with this paradigm was that pain catastrophizing enhances attentional interference. The current study aimed to replicate this finding and to explore the possible influence of anxiety sensitivity and injury/illness sensitivity on attentional interference. Healthy volunteers (n = 48) performed an auditory discrimination task and were thereby occasionally distracted by low electrocutaneous stimulations. The performance on the discrimination task was subsequently related to participants' scores on the Pain Catastrophizing Scale, the Anxiety Sensitivity Index, and the Injury/illness Sensitivity Index. We were unable to demonstrate an association of either injury/illness sensitivity or anxiety sensitivity with attentional interference. Results did, however, confirm the finding that pain catastrophizing enhances attentional interference. Perspective: The present study showed that pain disrupts ongoing activities. This effect is enlarged in those with high levels of pain catastrophizing and is related to the threatening nature of pain stimuli. The role of anxiety sensitivity and injury/illness sensitivity seems to differ from the role of catastrophizing and needs further research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-30
JournalThe Journal of Pain
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006

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