Selective attentional bias, conscious awareness and the fear of pain

Edmund Keogh, Trevor Thompson, Ian Hannent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (SciVal)


It has been suggested that healthy individuals with a high fear of pain possess a selective attentional bias in favour of pain-related material. However, evidence is limited since only a few studies have been conducted to date. In addition, these studies have not yet examined whether such attentional biases are relatively automatic, and so are outside conscious control. We, therefore, conducted a study with unmasked (conscious) and masked (preconscious) versions of the visual dot-probe task, and examined the effect of pain fearfulness on performance. In the masked trials, we confirmed that individuals with a low fear of pain seem to orient away from pain-related material. Furthermore, we also found that when stimuli were masked, this bias was reversed. Neither effect was found amongst participants high in the fear of pain. Together, these findings suggest that the ability to orient away from pain-related stimuli may be under conscious control in low fearful people, whereas such a mechanism does not seem to exist in those high in the fear of pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-91
Number of pages7
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003


  • Awareness
  • Cognitive bias
  • Fear
  • Pain
  • Selective attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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