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BioMed Research International
Volume 2017, Article ID 2031627, 11 pages
Clinical Study

Do Tonic Itch and Pain Stimuli Draw Attention towards Their Location?

1Health, Medical, and Neuropsychology Unit, Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands
2Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands
3Department of Psychiatry, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, Netherlands
4Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
5Department of Dermatology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, Netherlands
6Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Research Unit INSIDE, Institute of Health and Behaviour, University of Luxembourg, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg
7Centre for Pain Research, University of Bath, Bath, UK

Correspondence should be addressed to Antoinette I. M. van Laarhoven; ln.vinunediel.wsf@nevohraalnav.a

Received 28 April 2017; Revised 8 August 2017; Accepted 12 November 2017; Published 7 December 2017

Academic Editor: Kenji Takamori

Copyright © 2017 Antoinette I. M. van Laarhoven et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Background. Although itch and pain are distinct experiences, both are unpleasant, may demand attention, and interfere with daily activities. Research investigating the role of attention in tonic itch and pain stimuli, particularly whether attention is drawn to the stimulus location, is scarce. Methods. In the somatosensory attention task, fifty-three healthy participants were exposed to 35-second electrical itch or pain stimuli on either the left or right wrist. Participants responded as quickly as possible to visual targets appearing at the stimulated location (ipsilateral trials) or the arm without stimulation (contralateral trials). During control blocks, participants performed the visual task without stimulation. Attention allocation at the itch and pain location is inferred when responses are faster ipsilaterally than contralaterally. Results. Results did not indicate that attention was directed towards or away from the itch and pain location. Notwithstanding, participants were slower during itch and pain than during control blocks. Conclusions. In contrast with our hypotheses, no indications were found for spatial attention allocation towards the somatosensory stimuli. This may relate to dynamic shifts in attention over the time course of the tonic sensations. Our secondary finding that itch and pain interfere with task performance is in-line with attention theories of bodily perception.