Chronic pain and selective attention to pain arousing daily activity pictures: evidence from an eye tracking study

M Mahmoodi-Aghdam, M Dehghani, M Ahmadi, Banaraki A Khorrami, A Khatibi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
141 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: According to the pain research literature, attentional bias for pain is the mechanism responsible for the development and maintenance of fear of pain in patients with chronic pain. However, there is still some debate about the exact mechanism and the role of faster engagement versus difficulty in disengagement in the development of attentional bias.
Methods: To investigate attentional bias in patients with chronic pain, we used an eye-tracker with the pictures of pain-provoking activities and compared the results with an age- and gender-matched group of pain-free participants. In addition, other measures of pain-related cognition and pain severity ratings were included to assess their contribution to the attentional bias toward pain-related information.
Results: Calculating the frequency of the first fixations showed that both groups fixated initially on pain-provoking pictures compared to neutral one. Calculating the speed of fixations showed that control participants were faster in fixating on neutral stimuli, but patients with pain were faster in fixating on pain-provoking pictures, indicating a relative vigilance for the pain-related stimuli among them. These patients reported that the intensity of pain in the previous week was positively correlated with the speed of their fixation on the painful stimuli.
Conclusion: Although these results did not provide unequivocal support for the vigilance-avoidance hypothesis, they are generally consistent with the results of studies using eye tracking technology. Furthermore, our findings put a question over characterization of attentional biases in patients with chronic pain by simply relating that to difficulty in disengaging from pain-related stimuli.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-478
JournalBasic and Clinical Neuroscience
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


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