Pain-related attentional processes: A systematic review of eye-tracking research

Frederick H.F. Chan, Hin Suen, Todd Jackson, Johan W.S. Vlaeyen, Tom J. Barry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (SciVal)


Biases in the way that people direct their attention towards or away from pain-related information are hypothesised to contribute to the onset and severity of pain-related disorders. This systematic review summarised 24 eye-tracking studies (N = 1424) examining effects of chronic pain, stimulus valence, individual differences in pain-related constructs such as fear of pain and pain catastrophising, and experimentally-induced pain or pain-related threat on attentional processing of visual stimuli. The majority of studies suggest that people with and without chronic pain do not differ in their eye movements on pain-related stimuli, although there is preliminary evidence that gaze biases vary across subtypes of chronic pain and may be evident only for certain stimuli. In contrast, participants with and without chronic pain exhibit a general tendency to allocate more first fixations and total fixations upon pain-related compared to neutral stimuli. Fear of pain was found to have limited effects on eye movements, whereas the tendency to catastrophise about pain, the anticipation of pain, and actual experimental pain stimulation have had stronger associations with eye movements, although results have been mixed. Methodological limitations and future research directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101884
JournalClinical Psychology Review
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a seed grant of the University of Hong Kong (201711159097) awarded to the corresponding author. The funding source had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Attentional bias
  • Eye tracking
  • Pain
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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