Although many studies have investigated the effectiveness of distraction as a method of pain control, the cognitive processes by which attentional re-direction is achieved, remain unclear. In this study the role of executive functioning abilities (inhibition, task switching and working memory) in the effectiveness of distraction is investigated. We hypothesized that the effectiveness of distraction in terms of pain reduction would be larger in participants with better executive functioning abilities. Ninety-one undergraduate students first performed executive functioning tasks, and subsequently participated in a cold pressor task (CPT). Participants were randomly assigned to (1) a distraction group, in which an attention-demanding tone-detection task was performed during the CPT, or (2) a control group, in which no distraction task was performed. Participants in the distraction group reported significantly less pain during the CPT, but the pain experience was not influenced by executive functioning abilities. However, the performance on the distraction task improved with better inhibition abilities, indicating that inhibition abilities might be important in focussing on a task despite the pain.
- working memory
- executive functioning