Response inhibition predicts painful task duration and performance in healthy individuals performing a cold pressor task in a motivational context

P.A. Karsdorp*, R. van Geenen, J.W.S. Vlaeyen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Long-term avoidance of painful activities has shown to be dysfunctional in chronic pain. Pain may elicit escape or avoidance responses automatically, particularly when pain-related fear is high. A conflict may arise between opposing short-term escape/avoidance goals to reduce pain and long-term approach goals to receive a reward. An inhibitory control system may resolve this conflict. It was hypothesized that reduced response inhibition would be associated with greater escape/avoidance during pain, particularly among subjects with higher pain-related fear. METHODS: Response inhibition was measured with the stop-signal task, and pain-related fear with the Fear of Pain Questionnaire. Participants completed a tone-detection task (TDT) in which they could earn money while being exposed to cold pressor pain. Escape/avoidance was operationalized as the hand immersion time during a cold pressor task (CPT) and the performance on the TDT. RESULTS: Poorer response inhibition was associated with shorter CPT immersion duration and with worse TDT performance. Pain after the CPT was associated with pain-related fear, but not with response inhibition. No supportive evidence was found for the hypothesis that the relation between inhibition and escape/avoidance would be most pronounced for those with higher pain-related fear. In contrast, the relation between response inhibition and number of hits on the TDT was most pronounced for those with lower pain-related fear. CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that individuals with a stronger ability to inhibit responses in a stop-signal task are better able to inhibit escape/avoidance responses elicited by pain, in the service of a conflicting approach goal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-100
JournalEuropean Journal of Pain
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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