Habituation and the interference of pain with task performance

Pain. 1997 Apr;70(2-3):149-54. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(96)03304-0.


Pain interrupts, distracts and is difficult to disengage from. In this experiment the attentional interference during pain is studied with a primary task paradigm. We were interested in the strength of attentional interference with repeated presentations of pain. Healthy volunteers (n = 24) performed a tone discrimination task in the presence of two types of distractors (an electrical pain stimulus and a control stimulus) which they were instructed to ignore. On some trials, tone probes were presented immediately (250 ms) after distractor onset, further on (750 ms) during the distractor, and immediately (250 ms) after distractor offset. Habituation of the task interference during the early processing of both the pain and the control stimulus was observed. It was also found that the attentional interference during pain did not completely disappear with repeated presentations. Finally, results clearly showed a more prolonged processing time of the tones during pain trials than during control trials. These results are discussed in terms of cognitive theories of habituation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Behavior
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Self Concept
  • Task Performance and Analysis*