Podkolodina, Marija (2017) The Effect of Acute Pain on Performance in the Sustained Attention to Response Task. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Whilst chronic pain has been consistently shown to exert negative effects on cognition, the effect of acute pain on cognitive function in healthy humans is unclear. The most prominent suggestion has been that pain, by its very nature, demands attention and thus automatically disrupts performance on cognitive tasks requiring attention. However, despite having significant implications for daily-living, the exact influence of acute pain on human cognition is as yet poorly understood. The current study investigated the effect of cold pressor-induced acute pain on performance in the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) in healthy individuals (N = 74). In a between-subjects design, participants completed the SART whilst having their hand immersed in cold water (painful condition) or warm water (control condition) and provided subjective measures of arousal, task workload, and thoughts. Different studies have argued that the SART measures either lapses in attention or motor response inhibition. The results suggested that acute pain did not significantly affect SART performance. Errors of commission were associated with response times rather than off-task thoughts in line with the response inhibition perspective of the SART. No associations between SART performance and subjective measures were found. We argue that the cognitive resources on which SART performance depends were not shared with pain processing. Further explanations and implications of this are discussed.

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