When somatic information threatens, catastrophic thinking enhances attentional interference

Pain. 1998 Apr;75(2-3):187-98. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(97)00219-4.


Styles of catastrophic thinking about pain have been related to an inability to divert attention away from pain. We investigated whether pain catastrophizers displayed high attentional interference during a threatening low-intensity electrocutaneous stimulus (ES). In Experiment 1, 44 undergraduates performed a tone discrimination task whilst experiencing several times an ES on the left or right arms. Tones were also presented 250 ms and 750 ms after ES onset. Participants were threatened that a high-intensity painful stimulus would occur at one site. As predicted, pain catastrophizers displayed pronounced task interference immediately after threat stimulus onset. In Experiment 2, threat was induced in 36 undergraduates by informing them that an ES excites pain fibres. Again, catastrophizers had marked interference immediately after onset. The results are discussed in terms of how catastrophizing amplifies somatosensory information and primes fear mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self-Assessment
  • Thinking*