Effects of painful stimulation and acupuncture on attention networks in healthy subjects

Gang Liu, Hui juan Ma, Pan pan Hu, Yang hua Tian, Shen Hu, Jin Fan, Kai Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Pain is a subjective sensory and emotional experience, and it has been reported that many different brain regions are regulated by pain, and that pain can impact attention. Acupuncture is an important treatment component of Chinese traditional medicine, and has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of conditions. Although several studies have shown that acupuncture improves consciousness, the precise impact of both acupuncture and painful stimulation on attention is unclear. Are all of the attention networks modulated, or do these stimuli act on a specific network? Is the effect of painful stimulation similar to that of acupuncture? We administered the attention network test to 30 participants (15 males) to investigate the relative efficiencies of three independent attention networks (alerting, orienting, and executive control networks) under three conditions: baseline, after painful stimulation, and after acupuncture. The degree of pain experienced was assessed on a horizontally oriented visual analogue scale. The results showed that painful stimulation and acupuncture had similar effects on the orienting and executive control networks; however, there was a significantly different effect between the three conditions on the alerting network. In conclusion, (1) painful stimulation can selectively impact attention; (2) acupuncture can also selectively impact attention; i.e., both have selective influences on the alerting and executive control networks, but not on the orienting network; (3) the effects of acupuncture and painful stimulation are not identical. The mechanisms by which painful stimulation and acupuncture influence attention warrant further research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
Issue number1
StatePublished - 7 Jun 2013


  • Acupuncture
  • Alerting network
  • Attention networks
  • Executive control network
  • Orienting network
  • Painful stimulation


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