Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 31–35 | Cite as

The effect of pain on memory for affective words

  • Melissa Carter Kuhajda
  • Beverly Elaine Thorn
  • Mark R. Klinger


Memory is a key cognitive variable in pain management, but lacks extensive research. This study is a replication and extension of Seltzer and Yarczower’s (1) investigation of pain’s influence on memory for affective words, which found fewer positive words and more negative words recalled if subjects were in acute pain (versus no pain). In the present study, two experiments were conducted: one with a recall memory test and one with a recognition memory test. One hundred sixty undergraduate subjects were randomly placed in one of four groups: two groups had the same condition (pain or no pain) for both the encoding task and memory test, and two groups had mixed conditions (pain at encoding-no pain at memory test or no pain at encoding-pain at memory test). Pain was induced by 0°–2°C water immersion. At encoding, subjects categorized words by judging them as either positive or negative. Results of both experiments show that pain impairs memory. In neither experiment were differences found on memory for positive and negative words. These results do not support Seltzer and Yarczower’s discriminative effects of pain on word category, but they are consistent with other research using acute pain manipulations and chronic pain populations, suggesting that pain interferes with memory. It is hypothesized that pain depletes scarce attentional resources, thereby interfering with concurrent cognitive tasks such as thinking, reasoning, and remembering.


False Alarm Memory Test Cold Pressor Chronic Pain Patient Negative Word 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Carter Kuhajda
    • 1
  • Beverly Elaine Thorn
    • 1
  • Mark R. Klinger
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosa

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