Pain Words Problematic for Those in Pain

A new study finds that words related to pain — such as discomfort, agony, and misery — attract more attention among those suffering from chronic pain.

York University researchers used state-of-the-art eye-tracking technology to determine that people in pain look longer at pain-related words.

“People suffering from chronic pain pay more frequent and longer attention to pain-related words than individuals who are pain-free,” said Samantha Fashler, a Ph.D. candidate in the Faculty of Health at York University in Toronto, Canada. and the lead author of the study.

“Our eye movements — the things we look at — generally reflect what we attend to, and knowing how and what people pay attention to can be helpful in determining who develops chronic pain.”

According to the Institute of Medicine, approximately one-third of Americans, or 116 million people experience some type of physical pain, similarly, chronic pain affects 20 percent of the population in Canada.

Researchers incorporated an eye-tracker, which is a more sophisticated measuring tool to test reaction time than the previously used dot-probe task in similar studies.

“The use of an eye-tracker opens up a number of previously unavailable avenues for research to more directly tap what people with chronic pain attend to and how this attention may influence the presence of pain,” said health psychologist Dr. Joel Katz, the co-author of the study.

The researchers recorded both reaction time and eye movements of chronic pain (51) and pain-free (62) participants.

Researchers had both groups view neutral and sensory pain-related words on a dot-probe task.

From this test, they found reaction time did not indicate attention. However, when eye-tracking technology was used, eye gaze patterns were captured with millimeter precision.

Fashler said the new technology allowed researchers to determine how frequently and how long individuals looked at sensory pain words.

“We now know that people with and without chronic pain differ in terms of how, where and when they attend to pain-related words,” said Katz.

“This is a first step in identifying whether the attentional bias is involved in making pain more intense or more salient to the person in pain.”

The study is published in the Journal of Pain Research.

Source: York University

Tracking eye movement photo by shutterstock.