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Pain Words Problematic for Those in Pain

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.

Pain Words Problematic for Those in Pain

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Pain Words Problematic for Those in Pain. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 6 Oct 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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