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Effects of chronic pain history on perceptual and cognitive inhibition


Measures of sensory and cognitive inhibition were obtained from university students with and without a history of chronic pain. The form of sensory inhibition measured was diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC), the capacity of a painful stimulus to reduce the subjective intensity of a second stimulus delivered to a remote body site. To measure cognitive inhibition, the Stroop effect was used. Participants with a history of chronic pain showed less DNIC (i.e., less sensory inhibition) than the healthy controls, but had a smaller Stroop effect (indicating greater cognitive inhibition). The fact that chronic pain history is associated with opposite changes in these two measures casts doubt on the view that the two inhibitory processes are related. Scores on each experimental measure were equivalent in pain-history subjects with ongoing chronic pain and those whose chronic pain had resolved. This equivalence suggests that chronic pain in childhood or adolescence may have lingering effects on sensory and cognitive inhibition.

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The authors are grateful to Zack Fisher for advice on Bayesian analysis, and to Samuel Brotkin for laboratory assistance. This study was supported by a Lindquist Award from the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, and by a Dunlevie Honors Research Award to DT.

Author information

All authors contributed to the study conception and design, to preparation of materials, and to data analysis. Data Collection was carried out by CB and DT. The first draft of the manuscript was written by MH; all authors commented on drafts of the manuscript, and read and approved the final manuscript.

Correspondence to Mark Hollins.

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Communicated by Melvyn A. Goodale.

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Hollins, M., Bryen, C.P. & Taylor, D. Effects of chronic pain history on perceptual and cognitive inhibition. Exp Brain Res 238, 321–332 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-019-05715-8

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  • Chronic pain
  • DNIC
  • HNCS
  • Inhibition
  • Pain history
  • Stroop effect