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No preconscious attentional bias towards itch in healthy individuals

Becker, Jennifer M.; Holle, Henning; van Ryckeghem, Dimitri M.L.; Van Damme, Stefaan; Crombez, Geert; Veldhuijzen, Dieuwke S.; Evers, Andrea W.M.; Rippe, Ralph C.A.; van Laarhoven, Antoinette I.M.


Jennifer M. Becker

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Dr Henning Holle
Reader in Psychology / Leader of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience group (

Dimitri M.L. van Ryckeghem

Stefaan Van Damme

Geert Crombez

Dieuwke S. Veldhuijzen

Andrea W.M. Evers

Ralph C.A. Rippe

Antoinette I.M. van Laarhoven


Rapidly attending towards potentially harmful stimuli to prevent possible damage to the body is a critical component of adaptive behavior. Research suggests that individuals display an attentional bias, i.e., preferential allocation of attention, for consciously perceived bodily sensations that signal potential threat, like itch or pain. Evidence is not yet clear whether an attentional bias also exists for stimuli that have been presented for such a short duration that they do not enter the stream of consciousness. This study investigated whether a preconscious attentional bias towards itch-related pictures exists in 127 healthy participants and whether this can be influenced by priming with mild itch-related stimuli compared to control stimuli. Mild itch was induced with von Frey monofilaments and scratching sounds, while control stimuli where of matched modalities but neutral. Attentional bias was measured with a subliminal pictorial dot-probe task. Moreover, we investigated how attentional inhibition of irrelevant information and the ability to switch between different tasks, i.e., cognitive flexibility, contribute to the emergence of an attentional bias. Attentional inhibition was measured with a Flanker paradigm and cognitive flexibility was measured with a cued-switching paradigm. Contrary to our expectations, results showed that participants attention was not biased towards the itch-related pictures, in facts, attention was significantly drawn towards the neutral pictures. In addition, no effect of the itch-related priming was observed. Finally, this effect was not influenced by participants' attentional inhibition and cognitive flexibility. Therefore, we have no evidence for a preconscious attentional bias towards itch stimuli. The role of preconscious attentional bias in patients with chronic itch should be investigated in future studies.


Becker, J. M., Holle, H., van Ryckeghem, D. M., Van Damme, S., Crombez, G., Veldhuijzen, D. S., …van Laarhoven, A. I. (2022). No preconscious attentional bias towards itch in healthy individuals. PLoS ONE, 17(9), Article e0273581.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 10, 2022
Online Publication Date Sep 2, 2022
Publication Date Sep 2, 2022
Deposit Date Sep 5, 2022
Publicly Available Date Sep 5, 2022
Journal PloS one
Print ISSN 1932-6203
Electronic ISSN 1932-6203
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 9
Article Number e0273581
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Copyright Statement
© 2022 Becker et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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