Remembering an everyday pain: the role of knowledge and experience in the recall of the quality of dysmenorrhoea

Pain. 2000 Jan;84(1):89-94. doi: 10.1016/S0304-3959(99)00186-4.


The ability to describe the quality of a previous pain may be thought to be better if one had experienced that particular pain because information stored in episodic and/or semantic memory is available rather than if one had not and could only guess what the pain may be like on the basis of information stored in semantic memory. However research has shown that not only is the quality of labour pain poorly recalled by women who have given birth but also it is no better described by them than by women who have never given birth at all. In order to replicate this effect for an everyday pain, the ability to recall the quantity and the quality of dysmenorrhoea was measured in two groups of women. One group regularly experienced dysmenorrhoea, the other had never experienced it. Analysis of the pain intensity scores revealed that the 'pain' group reported significantly less pain 2 weeks later whereas the 'no-pain' group did not significantly differ in their rating over time. Analysis of the MPQ Descriptors chosen by subjects using Cohen's kappa resulted in 'fair' recall for both groups with no significant advantage for the 'pain' group. These results suggest that the episodic memory system plays a limited role in facilitating the recall of the quality of an often experienced pain. However the semantic memory system allows both previous pain sufferers and pain guessers to describe the core qualities of a pain to the same extent. Further research is required to explain why remembering the quality of a pain experience is not advantaged by episodic memory and what facilitates the transfer of a pain experience into semantic event memory.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Dysmenorrhea / physiopathology*
  • Dysmenorrhea / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Semantics