The effects of three different types of distraction on pain induced by the iontophoretic administration of potassium ions : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University
Distraction of attention away from painful sensations is a widely accepted technique for reducing both clinical pain (Copp, 1974; Turk, Meichenbaum, & Genest, 1983), and instances of experimentally induced pain (Fernandez & Turk, 1989; McCaul & Malott, 1984). However there is little research regarding the relative efficacy of different types of distracters. According to a model proposed by McCaul and Malott (1984), distraction is thought to modify pain perception by competing with pain-sensory information for limited attentional resources. Extending this model to accommodate the multiple resource model of attention (Wickens, 1984), suggests that somatic distraction may be analgesically more potent than visual distraction, while a recent meta-analysis (Fernandez & Turk, 1989) suggests that imagery may be the most effective form of distraction. The present study examined the effects of three different distracters on pain induced by the iontophoretic administration of potassium ions. 20 subjects underwent four conditions of a repeated measures experimental procedure: somatic distraction; visual distraction; imaginal distraction; and no-distraction control conditions. It was hypothesised that under these conditions; (1) the distracters would raise pain threshold when compared to no-distraction conditions, and (2) that either pain threshold would be raised more or distracter performance would be lowered more (or both) under somatic conditions than under comparable visual conditions. Findings revealed that all three distraction conditions significantly raised pain threshold when compared to no-distraction control. Of all the distracters, the imaginal task was found to be least effective in raising pain threshold, and despite predictions the somatic distracter was not demonstrated to be any more effective than its visual counterpart. Additionally, the prediction that somatic task performance would be lowered more than visual performance was not confirmed. These findings were discussed in relation to research by Riley and Levine (1988), and the value of the multiple resource model for extending McCaul and Malott's (1984) information processing model for distraction analgesia was also discussed.