Comparing the Effects of Thought Suppression and Focused Distraction on Pain-Related Attentional Biases in Men and Women


      • Effects of 2 cognitive strategies on attentional biases were compared.
      • Thought suppression reduced cold pressor pain intensity.
      • No difference in pain biases between thought suppression or focused distraction.
      • Cognitive strategy type and gender had a non-pain-related effect on temporal bias.
      • No differences were found on a spatial (dot-probe) task.


      Increasing attentional focus away from pain can affect pain experience, suggesting that cognitive strategies that move attentional allocation may be a moderator of pain. In a pre-post-design, the present study examined the effects of 2 cognitive strategies used in pain contexts, thought suppression and focused distraction, on subsequent pain-related attention. Thought suppression was hypothesized to increase pain-related attention, whereas focused distraction was expected to reduce it. Influences of both anxiety and sex were also considered, as secondary questions. 139 (86 women, 53 men) healthy, pain-free participants were randomly assigned to use either thought suppression or focused distraction during a mild cold pressor test (CPT). Pain-related attention was examined using a dot-probe and an attentional blink task, pre-and post-CPT. Questionnaires about relevant cognitive and emotional aspects, demographics, and pain were completed. Results showed no difference in the effect of the 2 pain inhibition strategies on pain-related attention. The hypothesized rebound effect in thought suppression on pain-related attention did not emerge. However, thought suppression showed a short-term benefit in comparison to focused distraction regarding reported pain and perceived threat during the cold pressor test. Few sex differences were found. Thus, the cognitive strategies affected pain outcomes, but did not influence pain-related attention.


      Cognitive strategies could help with pain through changing attention allocation. In this study, the effects of the 2 cognitive strategies thought suppression and focused distraction on pain-related attention in men and women were examined. Elucidating mechanisms that lie behind pain strategies that focus on changing attention may help improve treatments.

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