Task-switching ability protects against the adverse effects of pain on health: A longitudinal study of older adults

Ian A. Boggero, Tory Eisenlohr-Moul, Suzanne C. Segerstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective Ageing is often accompanied by increases in pain, which may threaten physical health. Successfully managing increased pain requires the ability to switch attention away from the pain and towards adaptive health cognitions and behaviours. However, no study to date has tested how pain interacts with task-switching ability to predict future health in older adults. Additionally, no study has tested whether objective (i.e., task-switching performance) or subjective measures of cognitive ability have a stronger impact on future health. Design/Methods The current study tested these interactions in community-dwelling older adults. Participants included 150 older adults who provided pain, task-switching ability, subjective cognitive functioning, and health data every 6 months for up to 5 years. Results Multilevel modelling was used to analyse the data, yielding gammas (γ) analogous to unstandardized beta weights in regression. A significant interaction between task-switching and pain indicated that when task-switching ability was lower than usual, higher-than-usual pain predicted poorer health at the following wave (γ = 0.30, SE = 0.12, t(663) = 2.45, p =.009; 95% CI: 0.07-0.65). When task-switching ability was higher than usual, there was no effect of pain on health (γ = -0.13, t(663) = -0.85, p =.39; 95% CI: -0.44-0.17). No significant interaction was found for subjective cognitive functioning. Conclusions Objective task-switching ability, but not subjective cognitive functioning, may have health-protective effects when older adults experience increases in pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-450
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (T32MH093315, F31AG048692, K02AG033629, R01AG026307, P30AG028383, UL1TR000117). The authors thank Audrey Darville and Daniel Evans for their help with data preparation and advice on data analyses, respectively.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The British Psychological Society.


  • beta-2 microglobulin
  • executive functioning
  • interleukin-6
  • older adults
  • pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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