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Gaining insights on the influence of attention, anxiety, and anticipation on pain perception

Authors Chayadi E, McConnell BL

Received 11 June 2018

Accepted for publication 22 January 2019

Published 1 March 2019 Volume 2019:12 Pages 851—864

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S176889

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Lucy Goodman

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Erica Wegrzyn


Ellentika Chayadi, Bridget L McConnell

Psychology Department, James Cook University, Singapore

Purpose: This article highlights the influence of attention and pain anticipation on pain attenuation. Pain-related trait anxiety was found to moderate the effect that attention strategies impose on pain perception. This article may contribute to clinical treatments quality, where pain attenuation effect is desired.
Participants and methods: One hundred seven participants, comprising of 72 (67%) females and 35 (33%) males between the age of 17 and 48 (M=22.6, SD =4.36), were used in the analysis. The current study measured the effect of pain anticipation and attention on three aspects of pain perception: threshold, tolerance, and perceived pain intensity. Pain anticipation was manipulated by varying the amount of information given to participants about a future pain stimulus. Attention was manipulated through a sensory focusing task and a distraction task. Participants were randomized into 1) InfoControl group with distraction task trial (n=30), 2) InfoControl group with attention to pain trial (n=26), 3) InfoExtra group with distraction task trial (n=26), or 4) InfoExtra group with attention to pain trial (n=25). The pain stimulus was delivered in a form of heat. The moderating effects of pain-related trait anxiety on these variables were also investigated using Pain Anxiety Symptom Scale Short Form.
Results: Two structural equation models revealed that anticipation is not a predictor of pain perception and neither did it interact with pain-related trait anxiety. However, attention strategies do significantly relate to pain perception. Furthermore, pain-related anxiety was a significant moderator of attention and pain attenuation. These findings imply that the effectiveness of attention strategies in attenuating pain is affected by individuals’ pain-related trait anxiety.
Conclusion: The results suggest the importance of appointing the appropriate attention strategy to different individuals with varying level of trait anxiety. Future explorations are necessary to develop a more specific understanding on the nature of information and distractions on pain perception.

Keywords: distractions, pain attenuation, sensory focusing, trait anxiety

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