More than meets the eye: visual attention biases in individuals reporting chronic pain
Samantha R Fashler, Joel Katz
Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Abstract: The present study used eye-tracking technology to assess whether individuals who report chronic pain direct more attention to sensory pain-related words than do pain-free individuals. A total of 113 participants (51 with chronic pain, 62 pain-free) were recruited. Participants completed a dot-probe task, viewing neutral and sensory pain-related words while their reaction time and eye movements were recorded. Eye-tracking data were analyzed by mixed-design analysis of variance with group (chronic pain versus pain-free) as the between-subjects factor, and word type (sensory pain versus neutral) as the within-subjects factor. Results showed a significant main effect for word type: all participants attended to pain-related words more than neutral words on several eye-tracking parameters. The group main effect was significant for number of fixations, which was greater in the chronic pain group. Finally, the group by word type interaction effect was significant for average visit duration, number of fixations, and total late-phase duration, all greater for sensory pain versus neutral words in the chronic pain group. As well, participants with chronic pain fixated significantly more frequently on pain words than did pain-free participants. In contrast, none of the effects for reaction time were significant. The results support the hypothesis that individuals with chronic pain display specific attentional biases toward pain-related stimuli and demonstrate the value of eye-tracking technology in measuring differences in visual attention variables.
Keywords: attention, chronic pain, dot-probe task, eye-tracking
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