Attentional bias to pain-related information: A meta-analysis of dot-probe studies

Jemma Todd, Dimitri ML van Ryckeghem, Louise Sharpe, Geert Crombez

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Studies investigating attentional biases towards pain information vary widely in both design and results. The aim of this meta-analysis was to determine the degree to which attentional biases towards pain occur when measured with the dot-probe task. A total of 2168 references were screened, resulting in a final sample of 4466 participants from 52 articles. Participants were grouped according to pain experience: chronic pain, acute pain, anticipating experimental/procedural pain, social concern for pain, or healthy people. In general, results revealed a significant, but small bias towards pain words (d= 0.136), and pain pictures (d= 0.110) in chronic pain patients, but not in those with acute pain, those anticipating pain, or healthy people. Follow-up analyses revealed an attentional bias towards sensory pain words in the chronic pain group (d= 0.198), and the acute pain group (d= 0.303), but not other groups. In contrast, attentional biases towards affective pain stimuli were not significant for any pain groups. This meta-analysis found support for attentional biases towards sensory pain stimuli in patients with chronic pain in comparison to healthy individuals across a range of common parameters. Future researchers need to consider task design when seeking to optimally measure pain-relevant attentional biases. © 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-436
Number of pages18
JournalHealth Psychology Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes


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