The aim of this study is to assess whether distraction (lack of attentional focus) and attention (cognitive load) are differentially involved in the analgesic effect of virtual reality (VR) immersions during a cold pressor test (CPT).
Thirty-one participants were randomly assigned to four experimental conditions (high and low cognitive load, attention with or without a reminder of the pain stimuli) and performed three CPTs. Pain was assessed based on the duration of the CPT (pain tolerance), a visual analog rating scale of perceived pain intensity during the CPT and the subjective pain scale of the Short form McGill Pain Questionnaire (SF-MPQ).
The statistical analyses revealed that VR immersions were associated with less pain compared to the baseline (all p <0.001), but for the experimental manipulations, only the conditions where there was an increase in cognitive load (ie, from low cognitive load at Immersion 1 to high cognitive load at Immersion 2) were effective for increasing pain tolerance (significant Time X Conditions interaction). The interactions were not significant for pain intensity assessed with the VAS or the SF-MPQ.