What can we learn about selective attention processes in individuals with chronic pain using reaction time tasks? A systematic review and meta-analysis

Ahmad Abudoush, Amna Noureen, Maria Panagioti, Ellen Poliakoff, Dimitri ML. Van Ryckeghem, Alexander Hodkinson, Nusrat Husain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Information-processing biases such as attentional, interpretation, and memory biases are believed to play a role in exacerbating and maintaining chronic pain (CP). Evidence suggests that individuals with CP show attentional bias toward pain-related information. However, the selective attentional processes that underpin this bias are not always well outlined in the literature. To improve current understanding, a systematic review was performed using a descriptive synthesis of reaction time-based studies. A random-effects meta-analysis was added to explore whether the results of previous meta-analyses would be confirmed using studies with a larger sample size. For this review, 2008 studies were screened from 4 databases, of which 34 (participant n = 3154) were included in the review and a subset of 15 (participant n = 1339) were included in the meta-analysis. Review results were summarised by producing a descriptive synthesis for all studies. Meta-analysis results indicated a mild significant attentional bias toward sensory pain-related information (k = 15, g = 0.28, 95% CI [0.16, 0.39], I2 = 43.2%, P = 0.038), and preliminary evidence of significant moderate bias towards affective pain-related information (k = 3, g = 0.48, 95% CI [0.23, 0.72], I2 = 7.1%, P = 0.341) for CP groups compared with control groups. We explored the main tasks, stimuli, and CP subtypes used to address attentional biases and related processes. However, variation across studies did not allow for a decisive conclusion about the role of stimulus, task type, or related attentional processes. In addition, a table of CP attention-related models was produced and tested for reliability. Finally, other results and recommendations are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1677-1692
Number of pages16
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2023


  • Chronic pain
  • selective attention
  • systematic review
  • attention processes
  • Stroop
  • dot-probe
  • Dot-probe
  • Selective attention
  • Systematic review
  • Attention processes
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Attentional Bias
  • Humans
  • Attention
  • Reaction Time
  • Chronic Pain/psychology


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