PhD Candidate, Clinical Psychology
My primary research interests are related to visual attention biases in individuals reporting chronic pain. Evidence shows that individuals with chronic pain pay more attention to pain and pain-related cues in the environment than individuals that are pain-free. This attentional bias has been implicated as a risk factor in the development and maintenance of pain, although previous research has been limited by the use of outdated measurement methods. My Master’s thesis targeted this knowledge gap: we used eye-tracking technology, a novel method of assessing visual attention, to evaluate attentional biases in individuals with and without chronic pain as they viewed pain-related and neutral words. We found that individuals reporting chronic pain looked more frequently and longer at pain-related words than pain-free individuals while establishing the ecological validity and utility of eye-tracking technology.
Further research is required to determine whether attentional biases are present in clinical samples and to examine if they predict the development chronic pain. For my dissertation, we will address the issue of attentional risk factors for chronic postsurgical pain with a prospective research design to evaluate attentional biases using eye-tracking technology in a sample of patients before and after posterolateral thoracic surgery for cancer.
By using a direct measure of visual attention by means of eye-tracking technology, we will provide novel data on attentional risk factors in patients undergoing surgery. Since there is evidence that visual retraining tasks can be used therapeutically to reduce maladaptive attentional biases and pain, this is a promising intervention to help mitigate the development of chronic pain.