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Attentional Shifts Alter Pain Perception in the Chicken

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In humans, psychological manipulations such as hypnosis, behavioural modifications, relaxation training and cognitive behaviour therapy have all been used to reduce pain intensity. One thing these treatments have in common is selective attention. Work on attention-based cognitive coping strategies has shown that they have potentially useful analgesic qualities in pain therapy. In animals, there have been few studies on the effects of attentional shifts on pain perception. There is extensive literature on stress-induced analgesia and it is likely that, in some of the experiments, attention could be an important variable. This paper will present some of our recent work on selective attention and pain perception using the sodium urate model of gouty arthritis. Birds are naturally prone to articular gout and the model we have developed mimics acute gouty attacks in a single joint. Experimental sodium urate arthritis produces a tonically painful inflammation lasting for at least 3h during which time the animals show pain-related behaviours. Changes in motivation can reduce these pain-related behaviours and it has been hypothesized that these motivational changes act by way of altering the attention of the animal away from pain. The motivational changes investigated included nesting, feeding, exploration and social interactions. The degree of pain suppression ranged from marked hypoalgesia to complete analgesia and as such demonstrates a remarkable ability to suppress tonic pain. These shifts in attention not only reduced pain but also significantly reduced peripheral inflammation. These results are discussed in terms of the limited capacity models of attention.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-02-01

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