Neural Mechanisms of Attentional Switching Between Pain and a Visual Illusion Task: A Laser Evoked Potential Study

Andrej Stancak, Nicholas Fallon, Alessandra Fenu, Katerina Kokmotou, Vicente Soto, Stephanie Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Previous studies demonstrated that pain induced by a noxious stimulus during a distraction task is affected by both stimulus-driven and goal-directed processes which interact and change over time. The purpose of this exploratory study was to analyse associations of aspects of subjective pain experience and engagement with the distracting task with attention-sensitive components of noxious laser-evoked potentials (LEPs) on a single-trial basis. A laser heat stimulus was applied to the dorsum of the left hand while subjects either viewed the Rubin vase-face illusion (RVI), or focused on their pain and associated somatosensory sensations occurring on their stimulated hand. Pain-related sensations occurring with every laser stimulus were evaluated using a set of visual analogue scales. Factor analysis was used to identify the principal dimensions of pain experience. LEPs were correlated with subjective aspects of pain experience on a single-trial basis using a multiple linear regression model. A positive LEP component at the vertex electrodes in the interval 294–351 ms (P2) was smaller during focusing on RVI than during focusing on the stimulated hand. Single-trial amplitude variations of the P2 component correlated with changes in Factor 1, representing essential aspects of pain, and inversely with both Factor 2, accounting for anticipated pain, and the number of RVI figure reversals. A source dipole located in the posterior region of the cingulate cortex was the strongest contributor to the attention-related single-trial variations of the P2 component. Instantaneous amplitude variations of the P2 LEP component during switching attention towards pain in the presence of a distracting task are related to the strength of pain experience, engagement with the task, and the level of anticipated pain. Results provide neurophysiological underpinning for the use of distraction analgesia acute pain relief.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)430-446
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Topography
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2018


  • Distraction analgesia
  • EEG
  • P2
  • Single-trial analysis
  • Source dipole model


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