Sensory focusing versus distraction and pain: moderating effects of anxiety sensitivity in males and females

T Thompson, Edmund Keogh, C C French

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (SciVal)


Although previous research has examined whether the relative effects of distraction and sensory focusing on pain are dependent upon anxiety sensitivity, such research has concentrated primarily on females. Given the increasing emergence of sex differences in pain processing, the current study aimed to examine whether any influence of anxiety sensitivity on coping effectiveness differs for males and females. The sample consisted of 76 healthy adults (41 males and 35 females), all of whom received distraction and sensory-focusing instructions and underwent noxious thermal testing (cold and heat). Results showed that anxiety sensitivity was positively associated with the emotional qualities of cold pain, and that males exhibited significantly greater heat pain tolerance than females. In addition, within males, a significant coping x anxiety sensitivity effect was found for cold tolerance, with distraction superior to sensory focusing only when anxiety sensitivity was high. In females, however, distraction was a superior strategy irrespective of anxiety sensitivity. Perspective: This study highlights the importance of considering anxiety sensitivity and sex when examining the relative effectiveness of attentional pain coping strategies. This finding may be potentially beneficial to clinicians considering pain management interventions that include a cognitive or attentional component.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-858
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011


  • anxiety sensitivity
  • attentional strategies
  • pain
  • sex differences
  • coping


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