Fear-conditioned cues of impending pain facilitate attentional engagement

S Van Damme, J Lorenz, C Eccleston, E H W Koster, A De Clercq, G Crombez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (SciVal)


Aims of study. - Selective attention to signals of impending pain allows the avoidance of bodily harm. In order to identify the attentional components involved in the selection of pain signals over competing demands, we used an emotional modification of an exogenous cueing task. Methods. - Fifty-two pain-free volunteers detected visual targets of which the location was correctly or incorrectly predicted by a spatial cue. Cues were emotionally modulated using differential classical conditioning. The conditioned cue (CS+) was sometimes followed by an electrocutaneous stimulus (UCS), thus becoming a pain signal, whereas the UCS never followed the other cue (CS-), referred to as safety signal. Results. - Analyses of response times showed that pain signals facilitated the directing of attention to their location in comparison to safety signals. In contrast, pain signals did not impair disengagement of attention from their location in comparison to safety signals. Conclusion. - It is concluded that attention is more strongly engaged to a signal of impending pain compared with a cue signalling its absence. We explore why disengagement from the pain signal is not impaired compared to the safety signal. The findings are discussed in terms of the defensive importance of pain anticipation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-39
Number of pages7
JournalNeurophysiologie Clinique - Clinical Neurophysiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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