The effect of the type of pain on the accuracy of memory of pain and affect

Eur J Pain. 2015 Mar;19(3):358-68. doi: 10.1002/ejp.554.


Background: Memory of chronic, acute and experimental pain may be inaccurate, but the research findings are inconsistent. The main aim of the study was to compare the memory of three types of pain and their associated affect.

Methods: A total of 140 women, who gave birth by vaginal delivery or Caesarean section, or underwent gynaecological surgery, participated in the study. Before childbirth or surgery, the women rated their anxiety about the pain they would experience. Between 24 and 48 h after childbirth or surgery, they rated the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain, and their positive and negative affect. Either 3 or 6 months later, the participants recalled the pain and affect they had felt.

Results: The study found that the type of pain had an effect on memory of pain and affect. Surgery led to an overestimation of all but one of the recalled variables. Participants who gave birth by Caesarean section were the most accurate at recalling pain and affect. Memories of pain and affect were most variable in participants who gave birth by vaginal delivery. The three groups of participants differed in terms of the predictors of recalled pain intensity and unpleasantness, and the proportion of variance predicted by the same independent variables.

Conclusions: The results of the current study suggest that memory of pain and affect is influenced by the meaning and affective value of the pain experience. This may help us to understand why the previous research on the memory of pain were so diverse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Cesarean Section / psychology
  • Delivery, Obstetric / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gynecologic Surgical Procedures / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Pain / psychology*