Attention bias modification and its impact on experimental pain and task performance

  • D. Van Ryckeghem
  • T. Vervoort
  • G. Crombez


Background: Attention is a core component in contemporary cognitive-affective models for pain. Particularly the idea that selectively attending to pain-related information worsens pain outcomes has been influential. Accordingly, it was suggested that modifying attention biases may reduce pain and disability. Here, we investigated whether (1) attention biases for pain can be modified and (2) modification of attention away from pain reduces pain and task interference due to pain. Methods: Healthy people (N= 62) were randomly allocated to a training or a control group. Attention training was performed with a dot-probe paradigm using idiosyncratic information. Importantly the attention bias modification (ABM) group received a training away from pain words, whereas the direction of attention was not manipulated in the control group. After the training participants completed a 1-minute cold pressor test while simultaneously performing a tone-detection task. Findings: Results revealed no difference in attention bias between the ABM group and the control group before and after the training phase (F < 1, ns). Furthermore, no difference was found between the ABM group and the control group upon cold-pressor pain experience (All F’s < 1, ns) or the extent to which pain interfered with task performance of the tone detection task (All F’s < 1, ns). Discussion: Despite optimizing the relevance of information used in ABM by using ideosyncrathic pain information, we found no evidence to support the efficacy of a dot-probe ABM paradigm to reduce pain or task interference due to pain. Alternative approaches to modify attention biases will be addressed.