Using eye movements to investigate selective attention in chronic daily headache

Liossi, Christina, Schoth, Daniel E., Godwin, H.J. and Liversedge, Simon Paul orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8579-8546 (2014) Using eye movements to investigate selective attention in chronic daily headache. Pain, 155 (3). pp. 503-510. ISSN 0304-3959

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Previous research has demonstrated that chronic pain is associated with biased processing of pain-related information. Most studies have examined this bias by measuring response latencies. The present study extended previous work by recording eye movement behaviour in individuals with chronic headache and in healthy controls while participants viewed a set of images (ie, facial expressions) from 4 emotion categories (pain, angry, happy, neutral). Biases in initial orienting were assessed from the location of the initial shift in gaze, and biases in the maintenance of attention were assessed from the duration of gaze on the picture that was initially fixated, and the mean number of visits, and mean fixation duration per image category. The eye movement behaviour of the participants in the chronic headache group was characterised by a bias in initial shift of orienting to pain. There was no evidence of individuals with chronic headache visiting more often, or spending significantly more time viewing, pain images compared to other images. Both participant groups showed a significantly greater bias to maintain gaze longer on happy images, relative to pain, angry, and neutral images. Results are consistent with a pain-related bias that operates in the orienting of attention on pain-related stimuli, and suggest that chronic pain participants’ attentional biases for pain-related information are evident even when other emotional stimuli are present. Pain-related information-processing biases appear to be a robust feature of chronic pain and may have an important role in the maintenance of the disorder.

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