Eye-gaze and the modification of cognitive biases in chronic pain patients.
Theories of attention and pain predict that individuals with chronic pain may have an attentional bias towards pain related information (Schoth et al., 2012), however, this may not be the case for all individuals.
Weinberger et al. (1979) proposed four personality types that were physiologically and behaviourally different from each other when faced with a threatening situation. Eysenck (1997) suggested that differences between the four personality types would cause individuals to attend to and interpret negative information differently, as a function of their cognitive biases. More specifically, defensive high-anxious (DHA) individuals attend to threatening information and will interpret ambiguous stimuli as threatening compared to repressors, who have opposite attentional biases to avoid negative information and interpret ambiguous stimuli as non-threatening.
Taken together, the two points above suggests that there may be a greater percentage of DHA individuals within chronic pain groups as DHAs shows an attentional bias towards threat related stimuli. Recent research has provided support for this contention (e.g., Franklin et al., in press). Researchers have identified a greater number of DHA individuals within a chronic musculoskeletal pain group compared to healthy controls. It seems logical, therefore, to consider threat and pain related information together to see if cognitive models of threat can provide an explanation for some patients attending to pain, whereas others are able to avoid it.
Attention is a multimodal experience (e.g., visual, auditory, etc.) and may be influenced by levels of state anxiety. Evidence from sporting populations has demonstrated that periods of eye gaze training can alter attention to allow participants to minimise the effects of stimulus-driven and task irrelevant environmental cues in order to maintain the goal directed approach when under a high anxiety situation (Causer et al., 2011). For chronic pain patients, completing activities of daily life (e.g., walking to the shops) can cause high levels of anxiety leading to a fear of movement and avoidance of physical activity. Therefore, using a similar approach, it may be possible to alter cognitive biases, and therefore attention, away from stimulus-driven pain related information and towards goal directed behaviour, thereby reducing disability and improving outcome for the patient.
Research in this area has generally investigated attentional biases as a single item and not considered the influence of interpretive and memory biases on the four factors. This is limiting since cognitive models suggest that biased attention has an indirect influence upon memory through its impact on interpretation biases. There is a need to investigate cognitive biases in an integrative manner to extend the understanding of their influence upon individuals with chronic pain.
Objective: To identify the utility of cognitive bias modification through eye gaze metric training within a specific chronic pain population.
Aims: The aims of this project are to: 1) explore attentional, interpretive and memory biases of defensive high-anxious individuals, through the use of eye gaze; 2) investigate the concordance between eye movements and the patients verbal account of attention location; 3) determine whether cognitive bias modification can be enhanced through the use of eye-gaze.
The results from this study will increase our understanding of the mechanisms behind cognitive biases and may provide a basis for more effective interventions.
Informal enquiries can be made to:
Dr Zoe Franklin Tel 0161 247 5528 email [Email Address Removed]
Professor Paul Holmes Tel 0161 247 5657 email [Email Address Removed]
Professor Neil Fowler Tel 0161 247 5466 email [Email Address Removed]
1. Hold a good first degree (2:1 or above) in psychology, sport and/or exercise science, or another relevant discipline.
2. Ideally, have completed a Master’s degree in psychology, sport and/or exercise science, or another relevant discipline.
3. Have a good understanding of the academic research process, quantitative and qualitative research methods.
HOW TO APPLY
Applications should be completed using the Postgraduate Research Degree Application Form
Return the completed application to: [Email Address Removed]
PLEASE NOTE: Section 9 of the application should be used to write a personal statement outlining your suitability for the study, what you hope to achieve from the PhD and your research experience to date.
This is a fully-funded studentship, which includes a bursary and tuition fees for 3 years for exceptional candidates.
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