Selective encoding and retrieval of affective words during exposure to aversive stimulation

Pain. 1991 Oct;47(1):47-51. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(91)90010-u.


It has been demonstrated that memory for pain plays an important role in medical practice. Since affect is an integral component of the pain experience, it is possible that pain may produce effects on memory that parallel those engendered by emotion. This investigation examined whether acute pain selectively influenced the encoding and retrieval of affective words. The results indicated that the experience of pain significantly decreased the encoding of positive words and significantly increased the retrieval of negative words previously seen, regardless of whether they were accompanied by a painful experience. Thus, pain interferes with memory of positive events by disrupting their encoding and facilitates the memory of negative events through selective retrieval of those events.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*