Attentional processes in parents of pediatric patients with chronic abdominal pain and parents of pain-free children
Baber, Kari Freeman
Chronic abdominal pain (CAP) is common in youth and has been associated with poor social and emotional adjustment. Theory and research suggest that the nature of children’s adaptation to chronic or recurrent pain is influenced by interactions with their parents. However, little attention has been paid to the factors underlying parents’ responses to children’s pain. A cognitive-affective model of pain suggests that children’s pain demands parental attention due to the salience of pain as a threat to survival. Furthermore, information-processing paradigms suggest that, as attentional resources are devoted to pain-related stimuli, parents will have fewer attentional resources for other tasks. This study is the first to compare attentional processes among parents of pediatric patients with a chronic pain condition (CAP) to attentional processes exhibited by parents of pain-free children by employing a modified dot probe task. Results provided partial support for the hypothesis that parents of CAP patients and parents of pain-free children exhibit attentional bias to pain-relevant words presented to conscious awareness. Results failed to support the hypotheses that parents of CAP patients would exhibit greater attentional bias to pain than parents of pain-free children and that parents reporting abdominal pain and related symptoms would exhibit greater attentional bias to pain than pain- and symptom-free parents. Correlates of attentional bias to parents’ anxiety symptoms, bodily pain and general health perceptions also were examined, and significant correlations were observed between attentional bias and parents’ ratings of bodily pain and general health status. The current study failed to find support for the hypothesized relationship between attentional bias and parents’ appraisals of children’s pain severity and coping efficacy. Findings are discussed in light of current research on attentional processes among healthy adults, adults with chronic pain, and individuals with CAP. Further research replicating and extending the current study’s findings may have meaningful implications for clinical interventions aimed at reducing negative social and emotional outcomes associated with pediatric CAP.