Original Report| Volume 13, ISSUE 2, P131-138, February 2012

The Interruptive Effect of Pain in a Multitask Environment: An Experimental Investigation

Published:November 10, 2011DOI:


      Daily life is characterized by the need to stop, start, repeat, and switch between multiple tasks. Here, we experimentally investigate the effects of pain, and its anticipation, in a multitask environment. Using a task-switching paradigm, participants repeated and switched between 3 tasks, of which 1 predicted the possible occurrence of pain. Half of the participants received low intensity pain (N = 30), and half high intensity pain (N = 30). Results showed that pain interferes with the performance of a simultaneous task, independent of the pain intensity. Furthermore, pain interferes with the performance on a subsequent task. These effects are stronger with high intensity pain than with low intensity pain. Finally, and of particular importance in this study, interference of pain on a subsequent task was larger when participants switched to another task than when participants repeated the same task.


      This article is concerned with the interruptive effect of pain on people’s task performance by using an adapted task-switching paradigm. This adapted paradigm may offer unique possibilities to investigate how pain interferes with task performance while people repeat and switch between multiple tasks in a multitask environment.

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