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All alone in the moonlight

By Timothy Cocks Science and the world 07 Jul 2015

The New York Times piece from last month on memory and pain:

Forgetting the Pain of Exercise

“Completing a marathon can be exhilarating but also agonizing. Thighs cramp. Backs ache. Toes bleed. Stomachs churn. Afterward, leg muscles can become so sore and tight that finishers must ease themselves backward down stairs and request assistance to rise from the toilet.

Yet, despite these aches and indignities, many of us who have finished a marathon will eagerly sign up later for another, to the occasional bafflement of friends or loved ones who saw us after the first race, peeling off bloody socks.”

The author links to research that suggests that marathon running induced pain and its unpleasantness is underestimated when recalled up to six months later and suggests

“…the extent of that amnesia may depend on how much someone enjoyed the race.”

There are some great little nuggets in the piece the relate to DIMs, SIMs and context:

“Interestingly, those runners who had reported less happiness at the race’s end generally later remembered their pain more accurately than those who had been overjoyed after crossing the finish line, even if their pain at the time had been about the same.”

“Polish researchers polled women who had just undergone gynecological surgery or just given birth and asked them to rate the extent of their pain at that moment. All reported high levels of pain.

But, asked months later to recall that pain, the women who had undergone surgery consistently overestimated the amount and intensity of the pain they had felt after their operations, while the women who had given birth consistently underestimated the pain they had felt, especially if they had given birth vaginally.”

Perhaps this suggests that current DIMs and SIMs can have a retrospective effect? Might the pain of childbirth be remembered differently at a time when the child is unwell? Would the memory of pain following surgery still be overestimated if six months later tests revealed that the operation had successfully removed a tumour?

There might be value in this work clinically- when a patient is asked how they have been travelling over the past week, how much does their present state (pain level, presence of DIMs and SIMs) influence their memory?

-Tim Cocks


  1. Good question Tim
    Is it about context, a variable that changes contiually depending on our emotional state and well being at the time when asked “How do you feel. ” My response today would be ” How much time do you have?”. My response to the same question yesterday ” Bellisimo”. Nothing in my World has changed except the context and my perspective…….
    DB Loondon

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