The Effect of Induced and Chronic Pain on Attention


      • Patients with fibromyalgia and healthy controls performed a battery of attention tasks.
      • Participants completed the tasks once during induced cuff pain and once without.
      • Pain induction primarily affected attention span performance.
      • Patients with fibromyalgia had poorer performance on the divided attention task.
      • Chronic pain and induced acute pain have different effects on attention.


      Pain has well-established effects on attention. At present, parallel literatures exist that have examined the effects of experimentally induced pain and consider cognitive performance in patients with chronic pain states. However, no study to date as attempted to examine the combined or differing effects of these 2 manifestations of pain in a single study. Twenty-four participants with fibromyalgia (aged 43.00 ± 28.28 years) and 26 healthy controls (aged 36.07 ± 11.93 years) completed an n-back task, an attentional switching task, and a divided attention task, once during induced, moderately intense pressure pain, and once without induced pain. Pain induction had selective effects on the n-back task and an overall decrease in accuracy on the attentional switching task. Conversely, patients with fibromyalgia were selectively impaired in performance on the divided attention task. These data therefore suggest that the effects of pain are not summative and rather that the mechanisms that underlie the negative effects of pain on performance in acute and chronic states may differ. More research is needed to examine these mechanisms and how these negative effects can be ameliorated to treat cognitive symptoms in pain.


      This article presents a study to examine the effects of an acute, induced pain model on cognitive performance in both patients with fibromyalgia and healthy control populations. We established that the effects of acute and chronic pain on attention are different, suggesting that different models need to be developed to understand these phenomena.

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