| MiCBT Research – Selected Studies

The relative efficacy of mindfulness versus distraction: The moderating role of attentional bias

Shires A 1,2, Sharpe L 1, NewtonJohn TRO 2. 

1 School of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
2 Clinical Psychology Department, Graduate School of Health, University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


This study investigated whether the ability to disengage quickly frompain‐related stimuli moderated the relative efficacy of a mindfulness‐based interventionversus distraction in response to an experimental pain task. 

Methods: Participants (n = 100) completed a dot probe task with eye tracking andwere then randomized (2:2:1) to receive a mindfulness‐based interoceptive exposuretask (MIET), distraction instructions or no instructions (control group) before engagingin the cold pressor test. 

Results: Participants who were allocated to the MIET condition reported a significantlyhigher pain threshold and distress than the distraction group, although notsignificantly higher than the control group. Those in the MIET group had improvedtolerance compared to both the distraction and control groups. Difficulty disengagingfrom pain‐related stimuli, as measured by the duration of the first fixation onsensory words, was found to moderate the relative efficacy of mindfulness versusdistraction in terms of pain threshold and distress, but not tolerance. Those with difficultydisengaging from sensory pain words benefited less from the MIET. Durationof first fixation on sensory and affective pain words were highly correlated, and durationof first fixation on affective pain words also moderated the relative efficacy ofMIET and distraction on threshold, but not distress.

Conclusions: These results show that a single brief session of a mindfulness task wassufficient to change an acute pain experience in comparison with a distraction task,and that those who disengaged quickly from pain words benefited most. 

Significance: This study demonstrated the efficacy of a novel, exposure‐based mindfulnesstechnique for pain tolerance and showed that those who disengaged easilyfrom pain stimuli benefited most. This brief task could be clinically useful, particularlyfor those who are not overly focused on their pain symptoms.

European Journal of Pain. 2018;00:1–12. https://doi.org/10.1002/ ejp.1340

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