The interruptive effect of pain in a multitask environment: An experimental investigation

D M L Van Ryckeghem, G Crombez, Christopher Eccleston, B Liefooghe, S Van Damme

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Daily life is characterized by the need to stop, start, repeat, and switch between multiple tasks. Here, we experimentally investigate the effects of pain, and its anticipation, in a multitask environment. Using a task-switching paradigm, participants repeated and switched between 3 tasks, of which 1 predicted the possible occurrence of pain. Half of the participants received low intensity pain (N = 30), and half high intensity pain (N = 30). Results showed that pain interferes with the performance of a simultaneous task, independent of the pain intensity. Furthermore, pain interferes with the performance on a subsequent task. These effects are stronger with high intensity pain than with low intensity pain. Finally, and of particular importance in this study, interference of pain on a subsequent task was larger when participants switched to another task than when participants repeated the same task. Perspective: This article is concerned with the interruptive effect of pain on people's task performance by using an adapted task-switching paradigm. This adapted paradigm may offer unique possibilities to investigate how pain interferes with task performance while people repeat and switch between multiple tasks in a multitask environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-138
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2012


  • pain anticipation
  • pain
  • task interference
  • task switching
  • attention


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