Painful memories: An investigation into the effect of memory on pain perception

  • Ellen Swannell

Student thesis: Doctor of Clinical Psychology


This thesis, which has been prepared in paper format, is an exploration of how memory affects pain perception. Paper 1, prepared according to guidelines for the journal Pain, is a systematic review of the literature on how memory affects pain perception. Twenty-nine articles satisfied inclusion criteria for the review. Studies were critically appraised and a narrative synthesis was used to make sense of findings. Two types of study were identified; priming and expectancy. Overall, there is good evidence that memory affects pain perception, however, methodological quality of reviewed studies was variable and this limited the conclusions that could be drawn. The findings are discussed in relation to current theoretical models of memory and pain and suggestions for the future direction of studies in the area are made.Paper 2, also prepared according to guidelines for the journal Pain, reports an experiment that was conducted in order to test a cognitive model of how memory can affect pain perception (Brown, 2004). Twenty-seven participants were subliminally presented with words that shared either a low or high degree of association with the word 'pain' (low versus high associates). Shortly after, randomised laser heat stimuli was delivered at one of three intensity levels (low, moderate, high). Behavioural ratings of pain were taken and physiological responses were measured using electroencephalogram. Pain ratings were higher after the presentation of a high associate than they were after a low associate for the moderate and high intensity conditions only. These effects remained when various measures of mood, anxiety and symptom reporting were controlled for. Similar effects in physiological data are reported with larger amplitudes in both stimulus preceding negativity and the N2 component of the laser evoked potential after presentation of a high associate relative to a low associate. Data are discussed in relation to activation-based theories of memory and pain.Paper 3, a critical reflection, considers additional issues that have arisen throughout Papers 1 and 2. The systematic review process, as it was applied in Paper 1 is critically appraised and methodological, theoretical and clinical implications of Paper 2 are discussed.
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRichard Brown (Supervisor)


  • Pain
  • Memory
  • Schema
  • Priming

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