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Experimentally induced pain, chronic pain affect attention differently

16 Nov 2019

Experimentally induced and chronic pains do not have additive negative impacts on attention, and that their underlying mechanisms of action may differ, a recent study has found.

Researchers enrolled 24 fibromyalgia patients (mean age, 43.00±28.28 years; 96 percent female) and 26 healthy controls (mean age, 36.07±11.93 years; 85 percent female) who were asked to accomplish a divided attention task, an attentional switching task and a two-back task. Tasks were performed once under induced, moderately intense pain, and once under no external pain.

For the two-back test, researchers found no main effect of chronic pain status (p=0.694), while pain condition did exert a significant main effect (p=0.022). In particular, mean sensitivity was significantly lower in the pain than in the baseline condition (2.30 vs 2.62). No interaction between pain condition and chronic pain status was reported.

In contrast, chronic pain showed a significant main effect on the divided attention task (p=0.026), such that controls delivered a more accurate performance than the fibromyalgia patients. No main effect of pain condition was reported (p=0.504).

Neither chronic pain status (p=0.092) nor pain condition (p=0.501) had a significant effect on reaction times during the attentional switching task. However, pain condition exerted a significant main effect on accuracy (p=0.016), such that those under the external pain stimulus performed more poorly. No such pattern was reported for chronic pain status, and neither was there any link between pain condition and chronic pain status.

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