The efficacy of attentional distraction and sensory monitoring in chronic pain patients: A meta-analysis

Dimitri M.L. Van Ryckeghem, Stefaan Van Damme, Christopher Eccleston, Geert Crombez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Attentional strategies, such as distraction and sensory monitoring, are often offered to reduce pain and pain-related distress. However, evidence for their efficacy in chronic pain patients is equivocal. We report a meta-analysis on the efficacy of distraction and sensory monitoring in chronic pain patients, and explore possible methodological and theoretical moderators. The scientific literature was searched for relevant articles, which were coded for methodological quality and several theoretical and methodological moderator variables. Only 10 articles fulfilled the search criteria. Eight studies allowed us to compare distraction with a control condition, two studies to compare sensory monitoring with a control condition, and four studies to compare the effect of distraction with the effect of sensory monitoring. Overall, results indicate that distraction did not differ from control in altering pain experience (k = 8; Hedges' g = 0.10, ns) and distress (k = 2; Hedges' g = 0.549). Sensory monitoring did also not alter pain experience (k = 2; Hedges' g = − 0.21, ns) and distress (k = 1; Hedges' g = − 0.191, ns). We found no evidence to support the superiority of distraction or sensory monitoring in altering pain compared to control conditions. We offer guidance for future theory-driven research to investigate distraction and sensory monitoring in this largely unexplored field, albeit one replete with methodological difficulties.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-29
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Psychology Review
Early online date28 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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