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Cognitive Biases in Children and Adolescents With Chronic Pain: A Review of Findings and a Call for Developmental Research

Journal title
The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society
Publication year
Lau, J. Y. F.; Heathcote, L. C.; Beale, S.; Gray, S.; Jacobs, K.; Wilkinson, N.; Crombez, G.

Cognitive biases that emphasize bodily harm, injury, and illness could play a role in the maintenance of chronic pain, by facilitating fear and avoidance. Whereas extensive research has established attention, interpretation, and memory biases in adults with chronic pain, far less is known about these same biases in children and adolescents with pain. Studying cognitive biases in attention, interpretation, and memory in relation to pain occurring in youth is important because youth is a time when pain can first become chronic, and when relationships between cognitive biases and pain outcomes emerge and stabilize. Thus, youth potentially offers a time window for the prevention of chronic pain problems. In this article, we summarize the growing corpus of data that have measured cognitive biases in relation to pediatric pain. We conclude that although biases in attention, interpretation, and memory characterize children and adolescents with varying pain experiences, questions regarding the direction, magnitude, nature, and role of these biases remain. We call for independent extension of cognitive bias research in children and adolescents, using well powered longitudinal studies with wide age ranges and psychometrically sound experimental measures to clarify these findings and any developmental trends in the links between cognitive biases and pain outcomes. PERSPECTIVE: This article provides a rationale for the theoretical and practical importance of studying the role of cognitive biases in children and adolescents with chronic pain, which has to date, been relatively understudied. Existing findings are reviewed critically, and recommendations for future research are offered.

Research abstracts