Attentional Biases in Chronic Pain Associated With Rheumatoid Arthritis: Hypervigilance or Difficulties Disengaging?

Louise Sharpe*, Blake F. Dear, Leslie Schrieber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


There is evidence that pain patients demonstrate attentional biases toward some pain-related stimuli (eg, sensory words) and not others (eg, affective words). However, whether individuals in chronic pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) also demonstrate this bias has not been investigated. Further, within the pain literature, whether these biases reflect hypervigilance or difficulty disengaging from stimuli remains contentious. The present study aimed to determine (a) whether RA patients demonstrate an attentional bias to sensory pain words; and (b) whether this bias is a result of hypervigilance or failure to disengage from the stimuli. RA patients showed a bias toward sensory words and away from threat-related words. The effect for sensory words resulted from slowed performance on incongruent trials (ie, difficulty disengaging), whereas the bias away from threat words resulted from faster responses on incongruent trials (ie, avoidance of threat). The pattern of attention biases in RA patients is very similar to those found in patients with chronic pain. At least in RA, attentional biases appear to be related to a failure to disengage from pain-related words rather than hypervigilance. Perspective: There is continued debate about whether these biases are caused by hypervigilance toward pain stimuli or difficulty disengaging from pain stimuli. This study shows that in a group of RA patients, attentional biases toward pain are caused by difficulty disengaging rather than hypervigilance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-335
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • hypervigilance
  • pain
  • rheumatoid arthritis


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