Attentional Biases Toward Sensory Pain Words in Acute and Chronic Pain Patients

Published:August 27, 2010DOI:


      Attentional biases towards pain-related words of chronic and acute low back pain (LBP) patients were compared with healthy pain-free controls. Specifically, the aims were to determine: 1) whether chronic LBP patients demonstrate attentional biases compared to pain-free controls; 2) whether observed biases are also present in those with acute LBP; and 3) whether observed biases are associated with pain-related fear among the pain groups. Four groups were recruited: 1) acute LBP patients; 2) chronic LBP patients from physiotherapy practices; 3) chronic LBP patients from a tertiary referral pain-management center; and 4) healthy pain-free controls. Participants were assessed on the dot-probe computer task for attentional bias to pain-related words. All 3 pain groups demonstrated biases compared to controls on sensory but not on affective, disability, or threat words. Among the pain groups, those with low and moderate levels of fear of (re)injury demonstrated biases towards sensory pain words that were absent in those with high levels of fear, which is counterintuitive to what the fear of (re)injury model suggests. These results suggest that the experience of pain, rather than duration, is the primary indicator of the presence of pain-related biases.


      Attentional biases are present in chronic and acute pain. Biases towards sensory-pain stimuli were demonstrated regardless of pain duration; however, they were present in those with low and moderate levels of fear of (re)injury only and not those high in fear. These findings are not consistent with the fear of (re)injury model.

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