The effect of threat on attentional interruption by pain

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Pain is known to interrupt attention. This interruption is highly sensitive to the extent of involvement of both attentional control and the level of threat associated with the sensation. However, few studies have examined these factors together. This study aimed to examine the interruptive effect of pain on higher-order attentional tasks under conditions of low and high threat. Fifty participants completed an n-back task, an attentional switching task, and a divided attention task, once in pain and once without pain. Twenty-five participants were given standard task instructions (control condition), and the remainder were given additional verbal information designed to increase threat (threat condition). Pain interrupted participant performance on both the n-back and attentional switching task, but not on the divided attention task. The addition of the threat manipulation did not seem to significantly alter the effect of pain on these attentional tasks. However, independent of pain, threat did moderate performance on the divided attention task. These findings support the robustness of the effect of pain on performance on higher-order attention tasks. Future research is needed to examine what factors alter the cognitive interruption caused by pain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-88
Number of pages7
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


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