Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) or continuous unilateral distal experimental pain stimulation in healthy subjects does not bias visual attention towards one hemifield

Exp Brain Res. 2015 Nov;233(11):3291-9. doi: 10.1007/s00221-015-4397-3. Epub 2015 Aug 4.


In natural life pain automatically draws attention towards the painful body part suggesting that it interacts with different attentional mechanisms such as visual attention. Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) patients who typically report on chronic distally located pain of one extremity may suffer from so-called neglect-like symptoms, which have also been linked to attentional mechanisms. The purpose of the study was to further evaluate how continuous pain conditions influence visual attention. Saccade latencies were recorded in two experiments using a common visual attention paradigm whereby orientating saccades to cued or uncued lateral visual targets had to be performed. In the first experiment saccade latencies of healthy subjects were measured under two conditions: one in which continuous experimental pain stimulation was applied to the index finger to imitate a continuous pain situation, and one without pain stimulation. In the second experiment saccade latencies of patients suffering from CRPS were compared to controls. The results showed that neither the continuous experimental pain stimulation during the experiment nor the chronic pain in CRPS led to an unilateral increase of saccade latencies or to a unilateral increase of the cue effect on latency. The results show that unilateral, continuously applied pain stimuli or chronic pain have no or only very limited influence on visual attention. Differently from patients with visual neglect, patients with CRPS did not show strong side asymmetries of saccade latencies or of cue effects on saccade latencies. Thus, neglect-like clinical symptoms of CRPS patients do not involve the allocation of visual attention.

Keywords: CRPS; Experimental pain stimulation; Neglect-like symptoms; Saccades; Visual attention.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Bias*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndromes / complications*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orientation
  • Pain / complications*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Perceptual Disorders / etiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Saccades
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology*