This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the evidence pertaining to attentional bias for painful and non-painful somatosensory stimuli in individuals with chronic pain. Eligible studies were identified via searches of Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Web of Science, Scopus, and Cochrane Library databases. Search terms were words and phrases organised into three concept blocks: pain condition, cognitive process and stimuli/paradigm. The search identified 29 eligible studies (reporting 32 eligible experiments), of which quantitative meta-analysis was possible for 16 studies (19 experiments). The meta-analysis found that chronic pain patients, excluding somatoform pain patients, showed significantly greater attentional bias to stimuli in the somatosensory modality than healthy controls (k = 9, g = 0.34). Additionally, meta-analysis of studies that used a temporal order judgement task found that patients with unilateral chronic pain showed a spatial attentional bias away from somatosensory stimuli (k = 7, effect estimate = 22.43 milliseconds) and visual stimuli (k = 2, effect estimate = 13.75 milliseconds) on or near the painful body side. Most studies of attentional bias to the somatosensory modality recruited samples of patients with fibromyalgia whereas most studies of spatial attentional bias assessed patients with complex regional pain syndrome. The extent to which these results generalise to other pain conditions is therefore unclear. We recommend future research test spatial and modality attentional biases across chronic pain conditions and examine the psychometric properties of attentional bias measurement paradigms for use with chronic pain populations. PROSPERO registration number CRD42019124510.

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