Attentional control moderates the relationship between pain catastrophizing and selective attention to pain faces on the antisaccade task

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  • Seyran Ranjbar
  • Mahdi Mazidi
  • Louise Sharpe
  • Mohsen Dehghani
  • Ali Khatibi

Colleges, School and Institutes


Cognitive models of chronic pain emphasize the critical role of pain catastrophizing in attentional bias to pain-related stimuli. The aim of this study was (a) to investigate the relationship between pain catastrophizing and the ability to inhibit selective attention to pain-related faces (attentional bias); and (b) to determine whether attentional control moderated this relationship. One hundred and ten pain-free participants completed the anti-saccade task with dynamic facial expressions, specifically painful, angry, happy, and neutral facial expressions and questionnaires including a measure of pain catastrophizing. As predicted, participants with high pain catastrophizing had significantly higher error rates for antisaccade trials with pain faces relative to other facial expressions, indicating a difficulty disinhibiting attention towards painful faces. In moderation analyses, data showed that attentional control moderated the relationship between attentional bias to pain faces and pain catastrophizing. Post-hoc analyses demonstrated that it was shifting attention (not focusing) that accounted for this effect. Only for those with high self-reported ability to shift attention was there a significant relationship between catastrophizing and attentional bias to pain. These findings confirm that attentional control is necessary for an association between attentional bias and catastrophizing to be observed, which may explain the lack of relationships between attentional bias and individual characteristics, such as catastrophizing, in prior research.


Original languageEnglish
Article number12885
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2020


  • antisaccade task, attentional bias, emotional facial expressions, pain catastrophizing