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Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer in individuals with chronic pain.

Avoidance of pain has been argued to be key factor leading pain events to chronic disability. In this respect, research has focused on investigating the working mechanisms of avoidance's acquisition. Avoidance of painful stimuli has been traditionally studied using a combination of Pavlovian and Instrumental procedures. However, such approach seems to go against real-life scenarios where avoidance is commonly acquired more readily. Using a novel pain avoidance paradigm, we tested whether pain avoidance can be installed in absence of associations between a cue and pain omission, and whether such avoidance differs between pain patients and healthy controls. Participants first learned to avoid painful stimuli by pressing a grip bar. Then, they passively encountered pairings of one geometrical shape with pain and of another geometrical shape without pain. Lastly, participants encountered the geometrical shapes while being able to use the grip bar. Results showed that participants pressed the bar more vigorously when encountering the previously pain-related shape compared to the pain-unrelated shape. This effect did not seem to differ between pain patients and healthy control. Our study could inspire a new way in measuring avoidance in pain, possibly paving the way to better understanding how avoidance is installed in chronic pain.

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