'Prior entry' for pain: attention speeds the perceptual processing of painful stimuli.
Zampini M., Bird KS., Bentley DE., Watson A., Barrett G., Jones AK., Spence C.
We investigated whether the perception of simultaneity for pairs of nociceptive and visual stimuli was dependent upon the focus of participants' attention to a particular sensory modality (either pain or vision). Two stimuli (one painful and the other visual) were presented randomly at different stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) using the method of constant stimuli. Participants made unspeeded verbal responses as to which stimulus they perceived as having been presented first, or else responded that the two stimuli were presented simultaneously. This temporal discrimination task was repeated under three different attention conditions (blocks): divided attention, attend pain, and attend vision. The results showed that under conditions of divided attention, nociceptive stimuli had to be presented before visual stimuli in order for the two to be perceived as simultaneous. A comparison of the two focused attention conditions revealed that the painful stimulus was perceived as occurring earlier in time (relative to the visual stimulus) when attention was directed toward pain than when it was directed toward vision. These results provide the first empirical demonstration that attention can modulate the temporal perception of painful stimuli.