The dynamic effect of pain on attention

mountain with snow

Several studies have demonstrated this effect on a variety of attention tasks in people with chronic pain , recurrent transient pain and with experimentally-induced pain in the laboratory . If the effects were different from the original study, it might suggest that the effect of pain on attention is dynamic, even within a given type of pain.

Key Takeaways:

  • While many studies have shown that pain is detrimental to attention, the specific effects tend to vary between studies.
  • In some cases, being in pain makes participants less accurate, and in other cases it makes them slower, even when attention is measured using the same tasks.
  • Participants met with the researcher once when they had a headache and once when they didn’t, and performance was compared between the two conditions.

"Pain tends to grab our attention, making it difficult to concentrate on other tasks. This is generally a useful feature of pain – if we burn ourselves while cooking, it’s good that our attention switches away from the food and towards the pain so that we can adequately protect ourselves."