Potential applications of attention bias modification (ABM) for acute and chronic pain patients are investigated. In study 1, 54 acute back pain patients (46 of whom completed the study) were recruited at their initial physiotherapy session and randomised to receive 1 session of ABM or placebo. Patients were followed up 3 months later. Participants who were randomised to receive ABM reported less average (P=0.001) and current pain (P=0.008) and experienced pain for fewer days (P=0.01) than those who received placebo. In study 2, 34 chronic pain patients were recruited and randomly assigned to receive either 4 sessions of ABM (n=22) or placebo (n=12), followed by 8 sessions of cognitive behavioural treatment (CBT). After ABM, there was a significant group-by-time effect for disability. By 6-month follow-up, differences had emerged between the 2 training groups, such that the ABM group had shown greater reductions in anxiety sensitivity and disability than the placebo group. Although the results of these studies show that there is potential in the application of ABM to pain conditions, the mechanisms of treatment could not be established. Neither group showed an initial bias towards the word stimuli or a training effect, and only in the acute pain group were changes in biases related to outcome. Nonetheless, the fact that 2 independent samples showed a positive effect of ABM on clinical outcomes suggests that ABM is worthy of future study as an intervention for pain patients.
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